All sports and physical activities involve some risk of injury. In general, the more collision or contact in a sport, the greater the risk of injury. Most frequent injuries occur when abnormal stress is placed on ligaments, tendons and muscles — most commonly resulting in sprains (to ligaments/tendons) and strains (to muscles). Less than five percent of sports-related injuries involve broken or fractured bones.
Below are a few helpful tips to help you reduce your risk of having sports-related injuries. Please note, these tips do not substitute a medical checkup or consultation with a physician. Always contact your physician if you have questions or have a particular injury caused by playing sports or exercising.
1. Get pre-season or yearly sports physicals.
Physical exams conducted by a trained professional help you to better assess your readiness for sports, and can help address any medical issues that may put you at risk for injury. Adults suffering from chronic diseases should consult with a physician before undertaking any new exercise activity.
2. Gear up with the right gear.
Always wear sport-appropriate and properly-fitted protective equipment, such as pads (neck, shoulder, elbow, chest, knee and shin), helmets, mouthpieces, face guards, protective cups and eyewear. Protective gear cannot fully protect you from injury, but it can lessen the severity of an injury. Be sure equipment fits properly and is in good condition. For example, runners should change their shoes every 300 to 500 miles.
3. Warm up and cool down.
Tight muscles are more prone to injury and put more stress on tendons, joints and bones — putting additional injury risk on your body. Increase flexibility and strengthen muscles with a combination of stretching and conditioning exercises before and after games, fitness training and/or athletic practice.
4. Set realistic goals.
Whether starting a new exercise program or trying to attain a new goal, set realistic expectations. Start with frequencies and intensities appropriate to your current physical condition (and based on a consultation with your physician) and injury history.
5. Play it safe.
Learn the skills needed to prevent injuries specific to your sport or game. Use proper technique to help prevent injuries from happening. Consider joining teams and/or leagues with established safety guidelines and safe, well-maintained environments. Also, participate in activities that are supervised by experienced or trained coaches who understand and enforce game rules.
6. No pain is your gain.
Never subscribe to the “no pain, no gain” philosophy and do not play through pain. Pain is your body’s signal of injury, physical stress or overuse. Listen to your body and consult a physician. The sooner an injury is identified, the sooner and more effective the appropriate treatment can be administered. As a result, the faster you can recover and the quicker you can return to the sport or game you enjoy.
At a minimum, if you feel soreness from physical activity, remember “R.I.C.E. is nice”:
- Rest … Rest the injured area.
- Ice … Apply an ice pack to the injured area for 20 minutes at a time (to ease inflammation and reduce tissue damage).
- Compress … Use a bandage/wrap to secure your ice pack in place with some pressure (to control swelling).
- Elevate … Raise injured area, such as a foot, knee, hand, etc., at or above your heart level (to reduce swelling and promote faster healing).
7. Hydrate … a lot.
Avoid dehydration by drinking plenty of fluids before, during and after exercising or participating in a sport activity. You should not wait until you feel thirsty. Thirst is one of the first signs of dehydration. Water and sports beverages are preferred. Avoid caffeine, sugary drinks and carbonated beverages.
8. Fuel your body.
What you eat and drink before and after physical activity directly affects performance. Junk in, junk out. And vice versa. Fuel your body with healthy, nutritious food that will boost energy and performance levels.
9. Take breaks.
Rest periods during practice, fitness training and games can reduce your risk of injury. Always allow time to rest and recover between workouts. If you participate in a year-round activity, consider incorporating an “off season” into your schedule — such as a 4-week period of rest.
10. Keep first aid available.
First aid is simply a safeguard until actual medical treatment is available. First aid can prevent infections, excessive blood loss, lessen scarring and even prevent death. Always keep sport-appropriate first aid supplies on hand.