Whether you’re an occasional Sunday golfer, an avid runner, or you just enjoy playing ball with your kids, the kinds of injuries that occur most commonly from athletic activities are surprisingly consistent across different sports. While the specific nature and demand of your sport or hobby will determine which body parts are at greatest risk of injury, when you engage in regular physical activity, you do run a slightly higher risk of sports-related injuries. That doesn’t mean you should stop playing—the health benefits of exercise far outweigh these risks. That said, it’s good to be aware of common injuries and what you can do to prevent them.
It’s possible to get a sprained ankle as the result of all kinds of twists and falls—even a minor misstep can put too much pressure on your foot while your ankle is out of alignment. Most sprained ankles will heal on their own with a little bit of icing and binding, but a bad sprain can lead to broken bones in the toes or feet and may include torn ligaments or tendons.
To prevent a sprained ankle, always make sure you’re wearing good, supportive footwear that’s appropriate to what you’re doing. Additionally, be aware of your surroundings. While it’s impossible to always know exactly where you’re stepping, having a good sense of noticeable curbs, bumps, and holes is always a good idea.
Shin splints can develop when you participate in just about any sport, but they’re most common in high-impact sports in which you can expect lots of running or jumping. This is especially a problem in activities like tennis and running on a track as these surfaces, while reasonably cushioned, can still be hard enough to cause considerable wear-and-tear when your feet are hitting the ground over and over again. Shin splints tend not to be related to any serious problems, but they can be very uncomfortable.
To decrease the likelihood of developing shin splints, be sure you’re wearing good shoes that are specifically designed for your sport and for the shape of your feet. People with “flat feet” (feet with low arches) are more prone to shin splints, but there are now many athletic shoes on the market designed specifically for people with flat feet. You’ll also want to be sure you’re stretching your legs before and after exercise, to encourage circulation.
Though as many as 50% of tennis players will experience tennis elbow at some point in their lives, the majority of cases are actually the result of other activities. It’s not just tennis; many sports require heavy lifting or repetitive arm motions. While the main symptom of tennis elbow is pain that manifests slowly around the area of the elbow, the real telltale sign is pain and shaking that increases when you’re trying to grip an object. For example, you may notice the pain becomes worse when opening a jar or shaking hands.
While tennis elbow is rarely a serious problem and can usually be treated effectively through icing, NSAIDs, and in some cases a topical pain killer, it’s important that pain in the elbow be evaluated by a professional as it can be symptomatic of more serious or complicated issues. If you’ve got a sports injury that’s keeping you from playing your best and enjoying your game, the Sports Medicine Clinic at the Spine Institute Northwest can help. Call the Clinic at 253-313-1801 to learn more.