Preventable Athletic Injuries
There are several common athletic injuries that are particularly frustrating because they are readily preventable; these injuries usually occur when athletes don’t know to take proper precautions or unwisely push themselves too far.
It’s important to note that while the conditions outlined below affect different parts of the leg and feet in different ways, their causes are almost always the same. Athletes looking to prevent these injuries need to follow a few simple guidelines:
- Introduce changes to your workout gradually. Many of these injuries are brought on by athletes trying to do too much too quickly. If you’re adding new elements to your workout or increasing the intensity of your exercise, do so very gradually (generally over the course of at least 2 weeks) to ensure that you do not over-strain your body.
- Always warm up to your workout or game, with proper stretching and a slow buildup to full activity.
- Always wear well-maintained, properly fitted footwear and other gear. Improperly fitted or worn footwear can place added or unusual strains on the legs and feet, which can result in gradual or sudden injury.
- Cross-training. The cumulative strain of performing the same activity over and over again can overtax muscles and ligaments, resulting in injury. Alternating between various exercises or activities can help offset that strain.
- Maintain a healthy diet and sleep schedule. Fatigue or insufficient nourishment are common contributors to the development of all sort of injuries and conditions.
- Don’t ignore symptoms. Many of these injuries will heal quickly in their early stages, with just a few days of rest or a slowdown in your workout routine. If you feel pain, don’t just push through—give your doctor here at Bay Area Foot Care a call or visit to make sure you’re not risking one of the injuries below.
Likewise, if you do develop one of the injuries listed below, the treatment for most of them is generally the same:
- Rest. Most of the injuries below will fix themselves with a few weeks of rest and proper care. That usually means a complete break from the activity that caused the injury; but you can check with your doctor to figure out a workout routine that will keep you ready to start again once you’ve healed. If you resume the workout routine too quickly, you risk aggravating the injury, causing it to occur again or worsen.
- PRICE principles: Protection, Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation. Most of the injuries below respond well to a cold pack (never directly on the skin) for 10 to 20 minutes, every 2 to 4 hours for the first few days. Compression bandages or athletic tape can be worn to stabilize the injury, cut down on pain, and help control swelling. Resting with the leg elevated can help drain away swelling and tissue fluids.
- Common medicines like ibuprofen, acetaminophen, and naproxen (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, or NSAIDS) can help reduce pain and swelling.
- Careful stretching and strengthening exercises can help speed recovery.
- Occasionally your doctor may recommend a brace or orthopedic insert.
If the pain grows severe or persists over time through these remedies, contact your doctor to ensure that the injury is not more severe and discuss further treatment.
Here are some of the most common preventable injuries athletes face:
“Runner’s Knee,” which you might also hear called Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome, describes a common type of pain in the knee which is common to runners and is usually caused by the kneecap (patella) rubbing against the thighbone. The problem might be caused by the cartilage beneath the kneecap wearing away, or by the kneecap becoming dislocated due to an injury or gradual wear on the knees.
You may have runner’s knee if you’ve noticed tenderness behind or around your kneecap, pain toward the back of the knee, or a sensation of cracking or of the knee giving out. The pain may be sharp and sudden or dull and constant.
Iliotibial Band (IT-Band) Syndrome
Similar to runner’s knee, Iliotibial Band Syndrome causes nagging pain on the outer part of your knee, due to stress on the iliotibial band, which runs from the outside of your hips, through the knee, and down to the shinbone. IT-Band Syndrome is often caused by activities that bend the knee repeatedly, like running, cycling, hiking, and walking long distances.
The pain of IT-Band Syndrome can be either sharp or dull, and is usually persistent and aggravated by activity that puts stress on the knee. You may notice swelling in your knee around the kneecap.
A stress fracture is exactly what it sounds like: a bone fracture caused by too much stress on the body. Overtaxed muscles become fatigued and unable to withstand as much shock and pressure as they once could, which places added stress on the bones and can result in tiny fractures. Most stress fractures occur in the lower leg or bones of the feet, with over 50% in the lower leg.
Stress fractures are most common in sports with high impacts to the legs and feet, like basketball, tennis, track and field, and gymnastics. They are especially common in athletes who have drastically increased the amount of the sport they engage in or who have changed something else in their routine (such as a tennis player suddenly switching from a soft clay court to a hard court). The most common symptom of stress fractures is pain in the affected area, particularly while engaged in the sport, which usually goes away with rest.
Injuries to the hamstring group of muscles are some of the most common problems athletes encounter, particularly in sports that require sprinting like football, soccer, basketball, track, and dancing. Older athletes and adolescent athletes that are still growing are particularly susceptible.
Hamstring strain occurs when the hamstring muscles (at the lower back of the thigh) are pushed too far for too long or placed under a sudden severe strain. The symptoms are usually felt as a sudden sharp pain at the back of the thigh.
It is important to note that hamstring injuries are graded by severity, from 1 to 3. A grade 1 strain is mild, often only a slight twinge, and will heal readily, while a grade 3 strain can often result from muscle tear that leaves the athlete unable to walk with swelling and bruising, and can take months to heal. If you injure your hamstring, it is wise to consult with your doctor to gauge the severity of the injury and the amount of treatment needed.