Common Sports Injuries of the Amateur Athlete
August 12, 2004
By Stephanie Riesenman for Knee1
Every four years the Summer Olympics inspires amateur athletes to take up a new game, but some sports carry a higher risk of injury, so it’s important to follow precautions from the experts and to be familiar with some common symptoms.
Millions of injuries happen every year that require treatment in hospitals, doctors’ offices, and clinics, and more than 775,000 of those accidents happen in children under the age of 15, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Most of those childhood injuries occur while playing football, basketball, baseball and soccer.
Dr. Pietro Tonino, co-director of the sports medicine division of Loyola University Health System in Chicago, analyzed data from the United States Product Safety Commission and came up with a list of the 15 sports with the greatest number of medically treated injuries. The list is as follows:
Basketball - 1,622,781
Bicycles - 1,299,987
Football - 1,035,450
Soccer - 456,320
Baseball - 417,479
Swimming/Diving - 364,116
Softball - 318,637
Trampolines - 244,564
Skateboards - 241,734
Weightlifting - 218,381
Horseback - 195,446
Volleyball - 161,240
Golf - 141,797
In-line skating - 114,574
Roller-skating - 114,338
Experts say many of these injuries can be prevented by wearing protective gear, following the rules of the game, and by staying physically fit.
The most common injuries of the amateur athlete are sprains and strains, repetitive motion injuries, and growth plate injuries in children. A sprain is a tear or over-stretching of a ligament, a band of tissue that connects 2 or more bones at a joint. A strain is an injury to a muscle or tendon—which connects muscle to bone.
Stress fractures are injuries where the ligament pulls off tiny pieces of bone. Tendonitis is inflammation of a tendon. Both of these injuries occur from overuse and are usually treated with rest, ice, compression, and elevation or (R.I.C.E.).
Growth plate injuries occur at the end of the long bones in growing children and adolescents—such as in fingers, forearms, hips, legs, ankles and feet. When full-grown the plates are replaced by solid bone.
With basketball topping the list of injury-prone sports, the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS) has a few tips to avoid getting hurt. First, players should always warm up 3 to 5 minutes before playing. They should wear shoes that support and fit snuggly. Ankle supports can reduce the incidence of ankle sprains, and mouth guards should be worn to protect the teeth. The AAOS also recommend knee and elbow pads.
One of the most common basketball injuries is a non-contact anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) sprain or tear. The ACL is a band of tissue that connects the shin bone with the back of the upper thigh bone. It is usually injured when an athlete jumps, lands, twists, pivots, or suddenly stops—all common in basketball, as well as soccer, football, and volleyball. These injuries tend to be more common in women since they tend to land from a jump with their knees locked. Doctors say that bending the knees and hips when landing will reduce the risk of injury. Players should also land on their forefoot and not their heals. And doctors say that strengthening the hamstrings can help reduce the risk of injury as well.
Bicycling puts less strain on the joints, but crashes are common sources of injury. Doctors recommend, and in some states it is required, that all children and adults wear helmets to protect the head and face. It’s also recommended to wear bright reflective clothing to be visible to drivers. Wearing padded gloves and padded shorts can offer more protection in the event of a fall.
The bill for treating football injuries is nearly $7 billion dollars a year (including medical, legal and liability costs, and pain and suffering costs). The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons claims that wearing protective equipment is the most important factor in minimizing the risk of injury—that includes a helmet, pads, thigh guards, and a mouthguard. In football, more than other sports, athletes can injure their ACL’s during collisions with other players. Other common injuries include sprains and strains and broken bones. Knees and ankles are the most common sites on injury.
Uneven surfaces raise the risk of ACL injury, which is why the prevalence is so high in soccer. Fields are often full of holes and players are always moving and running into each other during the game. For these reasons, doctors say it’s important to wear shin guards and shoes with molded cleats or ribbed soles. Shoes with screw-in cleats are associated with a higher risk of injury, but are recommended on wet fields.
Since swimming and gymnastics are two popular Olympic events, the sports are bound to attract some new-comers. Sprains and strains are common in these sports as well.
Surgical and non-surgical treatment is available for all of these injuries. Sprains and strains are usually treated with the R.I.C.E. method and some physical therapy. ACL injuries can be surgically repaired, but athletes should be mentally prepared that they’ll be out of the game for months.