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How to prevent and treat sports injuries

Children, teen and adult athletes in any sport, at any competition level, with any degree of experience are susceptible to injuries.

“There are two types of athletic injuries: overuse and traumatic injury,” said Dr. William McGee, DO, of Southern Hills Hospital & Medical Center. “They can occur during sports or routine exercise.”

Types of injuries

Traumatic: Traumatic, or acute, injuries occur suddenly while playing or exercising. They are caused by a specific event. Examples include fractures and sprains.

Symptoms: Sudden, severe pain; swelling; tenderness; inability to place weight on the injured area; inability to move a joint normally; a bone or joint that is visibly out of place.

Overuse (chronic) Overuse injuries happen over time when an athlete continually stresses his body, or a specific body part, without letting it rest properly. Examples include tendonitis and stress fractures.

Symptoms: Mild or moderate pain while playing or exercising; a dull ache or mild tenderness while resting; swelling.

Treatment

Some injuries require medical attention. “You can’t ignore sharp or severe pain,” McGee said. “If you’re experiencing serious pain or swelling, limited motion or function, or decreased strength, you should be evaluated. It could be the sign of a more serious injury.”

Other injuries can be treated at home. For those, it’s usually a safe bet to follow the RICE method — rest, ice, compression and elevation. It can help relieve pain and swelling and speed the healing process.

Rest: Reduce regular activity and don’t put weight on the injured area.

Ice: Apply an ice pack for 20 minutes four to eight times a day.

Compression: Apply even pressure using tape, an elastic wrap or a splint (depending on the injury) to help reduce swelling.

Elevation: If possible, prop the injured area on a cushion or pillow at a level above your head to help reduce swelling.

"Collision sports definitely present the most obvious risk for athletic injuries, but any sport can do it if the athlete isn’t able to rest and recover, if they’re ill-prepared or if they’re following improper guidelines,” McGee said.

Prevention

With practice and mindfulness, many athletic injuries can be prevented. McGee recommends all athletes gradually work up to their desired participation level, give themselves thorough warm-ups before beginning any activity and always adhere to safety and conduct guidelines, such as wearing appropriate protective gear.

What exactly is an ideal warm-up?

“Preferably, it should take at least a full 10 minutes and the focus should be elevating your core temperature,” McGee said. “You want your heart rate up, and you want to be sweating. You should also incorporate stretching into your warm-up and practice a combination of static and dynamic stretches.”

Static stretching: Stretching the body while it is at rest, lengthening muscles by taking an elongated position for a distinct period of time.

Dynamic stretching: Stretching using fluid movements to propel muscles toward their maximum range of movement (without exceeding the depth of the stretch reached during static stretching).

What to keep in a gym bag or first aid kit

In addition to the items below, McGee recommends that some athletes keep handy stretching assist devices and foam rollers, depending on the person’s past injuries and the sport in which they’re participating.

Ace bandage • Tape • Band-Aids • Antibiotic ointment • Splint • Pre-wrap • Ice packs or empty baggies to fill with ice

Youth sports and child athletes

There are many benefits for children and teens participating in sports, but if that participation is not thoughtfully monitored, it can put young athletes at serious risk.

“The volume of activity is just too high, and they’re not getting enough rest,” McGee said. “Between the amount of games, practices and different sports being played, kids today are doing 10 to 20 times more per year compared to things I did as a kid. My favorite line from a famous sports medicine doctor is that kids are not miniature adults. We can’t put them through the regimen meant for professional athletes and expect them to perform.”

Fitness fads for adults

Exercise fads have skyrocketed in recent years. CrossFit, spinning, Barre, TRX, hot power yoga and boot camp have overshadowed simple trips to the gym or jogs around the block.

While many of these alternative workouts are great options, they’re not without disadvantages.

“In general, we see a lot of people trying to participate in extreme fitness programs at an activity level that they’re not prepared for,” Dr. William McGee said. “There are two categories: people who get injured early on because they’re not prepared to start the routine, and people who try to increase their workload too suddenly.”

McGee recommends all people get a health evaluation before starting a routine and advises they make sure instructors are aware of their individual fitness level, as well as any previous or existing injuries.

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