With a sports season comes injury risk during practice or games. The most common injuries are strains, sprains and fractures. Depending on the sport, athletes also may experience cuts and contusions, dislocations and other lower body injuries like hamstring, hip flexor and back strains.
Treatment options vary based on the injury and severity. Typical course of treatment for strains and sprains include rest, ice, compression and elevation. If you have pain or inflammation you can take nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory pain relievers. Moderate injuries may need immobilization with a splint or a brace and physical therapy to help recovery. The most severe injuries may need surgical repair.
Off season work key to prevention
Athletes should have a comprehensive physical before starting a competitive sport season. This will give you the opportunity to identify and address limitations you have before the season starts.
“Ideally they have participated in off season fitness programs before the season starts,” said Dr. Chad Giles, Marshfield Clinic Health System sports medicine physician. “I also recommend single sport athletes work more cross training into their fitness program to prevent overuse injuries.”
Off-season training should include straightening your hips and core, legs and thighs. These should include dynamic warm up periods, plyometrics and agility exercises.
Giles also recommends a well-balanced, healthy diet, hydrating before as well as during practice and games, and a proper warm up and cool down period.
Athletes in competitive contact sports are at highest risk for concussions. A concussion is traumatic brain injury that interferes with the function of the brain. The WIAA has a “when in doubt, sit them out” concussion policy. If a concussion is suspected, athletes are removed from play until medically cleared to return.
Coaches and referees are trained to recognize concussion signs, but parents also are encouraged to know the symptoms, too. Headache, dizziness, weakness, confusion and vision changes after impact to the head signal concussion.
ACL injury risks for athletes
The ACL, or anterior cruciate ligament, is the main the stabilizing ligament of knee. ACL injuries are common in sports that involve quick maneuvers or changes in direction.
“Most ACL injuries come from non-contact situations. They will happen when landing from a jump, planting or cutting movements,” said Giles.
Treating ACL injuries
It’s time to see your provider if you have swelling, an unstable sensation in your knee, or significant clicking or pain that doesn’t resolve with ice, elevation and rehabilitation.
After an injury an athlete may need to use crutches and a brace or ACE wrap for walking but may put pressure on the leg as tolerated. If your physician recommends nonsurgical treatment, recovery will typically include physical therapy. Therapy includes strengthening exercises of the thigh muscles to provide muscular restraint and stability for the knee. Activity modifications may be recommended to limit cutting and pivoting type activities and movements.
If surgery is recommended, recovery can take nine months to a year or longer. Recovery after surgery includes physical therapy. Returning to practice with cutting and pivoting movements will depend on the athlete, sport and injury severity. In some cases, your surgeon will advise eliminating high-risk activities.
“A misconception is that surgery will completely fix the injury,” Giles said. “There’s an expectation that athletes will be able to return the same level of competitiveness but unfortunately this is not always the case after severe knee injuries.”