Aching backs, golfer's elbow, runner's knee, muscle pulls - ouch! For springtime weekend warriors hitting the pavement, golf course or trail after an inactive winter, anything can happen.
And it usually does - unless you stay in shape during the off-season, stretch appropriately and increase the level of your participation gradually in the first few weeks. A sudden burst of activity can - and will - take a toll on an unprepared body.
What's Ailing You?
Lack of conditioning, accidents, poor training practices and improper gear can all lead to injuries. Among the most common sports injuries seen in the spring are:
- Sprains and strains
- Swollen muscles
- Achilles tendon injuries
- Pain along the shin bone
- Knee injuries
Fitness experts say it's important to be aware of the increased impact levels that participating in sports creates on the body. For example, people often do more running in the springtime, causing additional stress to the knees and feet because of the pounding nature of the activity. Or, people playing a swinging-type sport such as golf or baseball may experience rotation injuries or irritation of the shoulder.
Play It Safe
Playing sports can be fun and is a healthy way to get some exercise, too. Stay safe with these helpful tips for preventing sports injuries:
- Start with a green light. Get a physical to make sure you are healthy before starting a new sport.
- Always wear proper protective equipment, clothing and well-fitting shoes designed for the sport you are doing. Protective eye wear is important for impact sports. Helmets are a must for bicyclists.
- Know and follow the rules of the sport to avoid accidents.
- Warm up slowly and stretch out before and after exercising. Warming up gradually increases the heart rate and can prevent muscle strain and joint injury.
- Stay hydrated by drinking lots of water before, during and after your activity.
- Avoid playing when you're tired or in pain.
Tip: Swimming offers many health benefits and few joint injury risks.
What's My Sport?
Can you identify the spring sporting activity by its leading potential injury? Take this quiz to see how you do.
- Elbow pain
- Shin splints
- Shoulder pain
- Ankle sprains
- Achilles tendinitis
- Head injuries
- b. Shin splints. Experienced primarily by walkers with poor shoes or over pronated feet (when feet roll inward), shin splints are an irritation to the tendons where they connect to the tibia bone. Stretching calf muscles before and after walking (or running) will help.
- e. Achilles tendinitis. A painful overuse injury most commonly found in middle-aged runners, this condition occurs when the large tendon in the back of the ankle becomes irritated and inflamed.
- d. Ankle sprains. This accidental injury is often due to inattention when a hiker inadvertently steps into a hole due to uneven ground or obstacles on the path. Walkers and runners also experience ankle sprains, as do athletes changing direction quickly or landing poorly after jumping, such as in soccer.
- f. Head injuries. The main cause of disabling injuries in bicyclists is a head injury. Wearing a helmet when bicycling helps prevent serious head injuries and saves lives.
- a. Elbow pain. Golfers and tennis players suffer elbow injuries primarily due to incorrect technique, gripping the club or racquet too hard or hitting the ground frequently. Taking lessons from a professional instructor and conditioning exercises can help.
- c. Shoulder pain. Frequently seen in throwing sports, rotator cuff tendinitis is a common cause of shoulder pain. Proper conditioning and easing into an activity are the best ways to prevent problems.
Treat It Right
If you get hurt, it is important to act quickly for the best outcome. Continuing to play or exercise often causes more harm. Treatment at home should begin with RICE:
- Rest the injured area
- Ice it
- Compress it with a wrap
- Elevate it
Diagnosing and treating overuse injuries can help ensure they don't turn into larger chronic problems. The solution may be as simple as taking a break from the activity or modifying a technique. For a serious injury, seek emergency care immediately.
If you have questions about the prevention or treatment of specific sports injuries, talk to a fitness expert or your doctor.
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