As evidenced by the fact that Super Bowl 50 was watched by almost 112 million people (not counting out-of-home watchers, like those in sports bars), one of the largest turnouts in TV history, sports are one of America’s favorite trends. Unfortunately, with sports being so popular, injuries are a consequence. All too often we see our favorite players being temporarily sidelined with a concussion or a painful knee injury. What are the most common injuries and how do they occur?
Hip Flexor Strain
The hip flexor is a group of muscles in the upper leg and hip that help pull the leg upwards. Injuries occur when the muscles are stretched too far or are torn. Usually these muscles are strained when the muscles are stiff, weak, or haven’t been warmed up. Sports like football and soccer are susceptible to a hip flexor strain because of sudden movements upwards or changes in direction.
Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) Tear
While not exactly the most common injury in sports, it is certainly one of the most severe and career-impacting. This ligament connects the leg bone to the knee, so if this were to tear, your leg would be rendered useless, unable to carry weight without extreme pain and the threat of causing more damage. Suddenly stopping or changing direction can cause a strain or tear of the ACL, but being hit, usually forcing the knee in an unnatural direction, can cause a tear. Probably the most famous ACL injury is that of the NFL’s Washington Redskins Joe Theismann when an opponent, Lawrence Taylor, fell into his knee and forced it inwards.
A concussion is a brain injury that results from a hit to the head. The brain “floats” in a clear fluid called cerebrospinal fluid (CSF), which acts as a buffer in big hits. However, it cannot completely restrain the brain, so when the brain hits the walls of the skull, a concussion occurs. Concussions can take two weeks to a month to heal completely. Hockey is a notorious sport for its level of concussions. A recently discovered disease that results from numerous concussions is called chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). Such hockey players as Steve Montador and NFL players Junior Seau and Mike Webster died of CTE.
Any sport where one jumps or changes direction suddenly is prone to an ankle sprain, which can appear if one rolls or twists the ankle. The ligaments, usually on the outside of the ankle, stretch or tear and can heal with rest and ice.
Sciatica is a term for injury toward the sciatic nerve, which runs from the lower back, down the legs, and into the feet—the longest nerve in the human body. Most commonly caused by improperly stretching it can also occur for runners who have legs that are not the same length. Sciatica also encompasses back spasms and bulging or herniated discs. This injury is more likely to be seen in running cycling, golf, and tennis.
Three muscles behind the knee make up what is the hamstring, which is often “pulled,” or stretched too far. Actions where one may overuse the hamstring muscle, such as hurdling or leaning forward while waterskiing, can result in a strain or tear. A lack of flexibility or not warming up is a big contributor to injury. One should rest when they are tired because the mechanisms that protect the muscles cease to work when the muscles are fatigued.
Used to help pull the legs together, the groin muscles can be found in the in the inner thigh. Moving from side to side frequently, like football, soccer, or hockey, can result in groin pulls.
Shin splints are likely to occur in people with flat feet, dancers, or those who play sports where one stops and starts suddenly: tennis, soccer, basketball, to name a few. A shin splint is characterized by a shooting pain down the leg, and generally just takes a bit of rest to return to normal. However, if the pain persists, there could be more problems that a sports medicine professional needs to see.
Also known as golf elbow, tennis elbow makes up almost seven percent of all sports injuries. Tennis elbow, scientifically called epicondylitis, is an injury of many little tears in the elbow ligaments that come from repeated use of it.
Shoulder injuries, like dislocations, strains, and sprains, make up nearly twenty percent of all sports injuries. They only occur by over usage with overhead movement, which is the case for many sports. Strength-building exercises during the offseason are the best way to keep the shoulders healthy.
While the name is not a common vocabulary word, it is the proper term for an injury where the kneecap repeatedly grates against the leg bone, which wears down the ligaments that are supposed to keep them from contacting one another. This is the most common of the knee injuries, which make up over fifty percent of sports injuries. Basketball is one of the more common sports for this injury, but it can also occur in football, volleyball, cycling, and even swimming. It is recommended that one wears proper shoes and runs on softer surfaces, like tracks rather than concrete.
While many sports are prone to these injuries, it does not mean the sport is inherently dangerous. With proper equipment, and care for the body, these injuries can be avoided. Sometimes accidents happen though, and that’s why it’s very important to know the sports medicine experts in your community if you are going to play sports.