It may seem like if anyone can sidestep an injury, it’s an athlete. Being in top physical condition gives your body the best chance at avoiding the health pitfalls the general population faces. Why, then, are sports injuries so common? It’s simple: the risks are higher.
Every time you play sports, you put your body through a rigorous experience that taxes your muscles, tendons, ligaments, and joints. One misstep at high speed and under great force can easily lead to injury.
At TLC Physical Therapy, we see all kinds of sports injuries every day. With five locations across New York and New Jersey, we specialize in helping athletes get back in the game thanks to our state-of-the-art equipment and modern practice spaces.
But the best way to stay in the game is to avoid injuries in the first place. Here, our experienced physical therapist Jason LaMendola, PT, shares his insights into the most common sports injuries and how to prevent them.
The most common sports injuries
All physical activity poses a slight risk of injury, but when you add the opponents, equipment, and competitive environment of a sports match, the risk escalates considerably. The most common sports injuries involve your joints, muscles, and ligaments, but can also affect your head and bones. Here’s a look at the types of sports injuries we treat most frequently.
Sprains refer to stretched or torn ligaments. While any ligament can suffer a sprain, the ankle is the most common location. Every day, 25,000 Americans sprain an ankle, and half of them are athletes. Ankles often give way when running, turning, or landing, leading to overstretched stabilizing ligaments. Physical therapists grade ankle sprains according to severity:
- Grade 1 is a mild stretch
- Grade 2 is a partial ligament tear that results in some instability
- Grade 3 is a complete tear with extreme instability
To avoid a sprained ankle, wear the proper footwear for your sport, stretch and strengthen your ankles, work on your balance, and wear ankle braces (especially if you’ve sprained your ankle previously).
Like ligaments, muscles can stretch and tear during physical activity. Though this is technically called a strain, it’s also known as a pulled muscle or a Charlie horse.
Pulled muscles often occur due to fatigue, overuse, or poor form, but they can happen to athletes in any sport. To avoid straining a muscle, focus on your flexibility, warm-up before exercising, and incorporate strength training to keep all your muscle groups healthy.
Sports that require sudden starts and stops, quick footwork and cutting, and repetitive throwing and hitting take a toll on your joints. Even with proper execution, overuse can wear down your joints and lead to injury. The most common types are:
- Elbow sprain or tendonitis, also called tennis elbow
- Rotator cuff injuries in the shoulder
- ACL or MCL injuries in the knees
- Joint dislocations
To avoid joint injuries, avoid overuse (for example, observe pitch count maximums in baseball), rest after heavy use, strengthen the surrounding musculature of overused joints, and wear a supportive brace.
Any blow to the head can result in a concussion, which is a type of traumatic brain injury. The impact slams your brain against the inside of your skull which can trigger chemical changes and may even damage some brain cells.
Football has a reputation for causing concussions, but it can happen in any sport from basketball and baseball to volleyball and cheerleading. It is particularly common in contact sports such as:
- Ice hockey
To avoid a concussion, wear all required protective gear (especially a helmet if needed), strengthen your neck muscles, use a mouthguard, and avoid using your head as a point of contact.
What to do when you have a sports injury
If despite your efforts, you end up with a sports injury, the best thing to do is work with a team of medical professionals who understand the nature of athletics and the unique injuries athletes sustain. That’s what you get at TLC Physical Therapy — exercises tailored for sports injuries that not only help you recover but help you come back stronger.
To get the best care for your sports injury, book an appointment online at any of our five locations in Staten Island or Midtown Manhattan, New York, or Englishtown, New Jersey.