Physical exercise is great for the mind, body and spirit. And playing a team sport can be good for learning accountability, dedication and building confidence and leadership skills.
But participating in athletics isn’t without its risks, whether you’re an elite athlete, a weekend warrior or take an occasional jog or bike ride.
Sports medicine experts say that’s why it’s important to learn how to prevent injuries and look beyond your medicine cabinet to treat some of the most common sports injuries.
And once you’ve recovered, it’s also good to know how to keep from suffering the same injury again.
“A lot of injuries happen within the first few months of a person taking up a new activity,” said Dr. James Borchers, director of sports medicine at Ohio State University’s Wexner Medical Center.
“The last thing we want people to do is to defeat themselves before they even get started.”
One way to reduce the risk of this happening is by talking to your doctor about the appropriate level of exercise for your fitness level and abilities, he said. Many injuries occur when people do too much, too quickly.
When starting an exercise routine or a new workout program, start slowly, Borchers said. You should gradually build up the intensity, duration and frequency.
It’s also important to warm up before and after exercising, stretch regularly and vary your workout so you don’t overuse one set of muscles, said Dr. Sylvia Rozek, a sports medicine doctor at Mount Carmel Fitness & Health.
A certified personal trainer, physical therapist or strength/conditioning coach can teach you good techniques and create a safe and realistic exercise program, she said.
There are basically two types of injuries: acute and overuse, said Dr. John Diehl, a family practice and sports medicine doctor at OhioHealth’s McConnell Spine, Sport & Joint Physicians group.
Acute injuries usually occur after a single traumatic event, such as a twist, fall or collision, Diehl said. They can include broken bones, sprains such as ligament injuries, strains such as muscle and tendon injuries and cuts and bruises, he said.
Overuse injuries typically occur over time, when an athletic activity is repeated so often that parts of the body don’t have enough time to heal, he said. Examples include runner’s knee, swimmer’s shoulder and tennis elbow.
“Younger athletes are more likely to suffer an acute injury during a sporting event or as a result of a serious accident, while older athletes or weekend warriors are more likely to get an overuse injury,” he said.
People should seek medical treatment for serious injuries, but can manage many sports injuries themselves, experts say. Diehl said the RICE method — short for rest, ice, compression and elevation — is helpful. And some sports-medicine experts add a P, for protection.
If pain or other symptoms don’t improve, see a doctor or sports-medicine expert.
More persistent problems might require rehabilitation, surgery or both, said Dr. Christopher Kaeding, executive director of sports medicine at Ohio State. And don’t let the fear of re-injury become an excuse for giving up exercising or a sport you love, he said.
After nearly a year of physical therapy, Corey Greenblat is looking forward to finally getting back to playing soccer.
Greenblat, a 21-year-old political science student at Ohio State, partially tore his right hamstring in July 2016 and has been dealing with sharp pain and tightness at the back of his thigh ever since.
It’s not the first time he’s had trouble with that leg. He tore his anterior cruciate ligament in his knee playing soccer in high school in Toledo. The ACL is one of the ligaments that joins the upper leg with the lower leg bone and keeps the knee stable.
Greenblat, who plays with the OSU indoor soccer club, said after several ups and downs in his recovery, he recently moved to a higher level of strength training at Ohio State’s Jameson Crane Sports Medicine Institute and hopes to return to the playing field before the end of summer.
“Soccer has always been my stress reliever, and in many ways the mental part of my recovery has been even harder than the physical,” he said. “But I want to do everything right to keep from re-injuring myself.”
Here are some common types of sports injuries and what to expect if you suffer with them:
Knee injuries make up about 55 percent of all sports injuries and approximately one-fourth of all problems treated by orthopedic surgeons, said Dr. Rozek of Mount Carmel Fitness & Health.
The most common knee pain is runner’s knee, which is caused by a misalignment of the kneecap.
Despite the vernacular, runner’s knee can strike cyclists, swimmers and anyone who participates in a running sport such as basketball, football and volleyball.
Prevention and treatment: Strengthening your quadriceps through weight training; taking rest days between workouts; and cross training to prevent overuse.
Sudden stops, quick changes in direction and getting hit from the side can strain or tear the ACL, Kaeding said. It can occur in a number of sports, including basketball, football, lacrosse, soccer and rugby. About two-thirds of patients report being injured without any contact, he said.
ACL tears are among the most severe of common sports injuries, and women are more likely to suffer an ACL injury.
Prevention and treatment: Having adequate strength in your hips and thighs is key to providing support for your knees and preventing ACL injuries. Squats and lunges are just a couple of exercises that can build strength. It’s a good idea to see a doctor if you suspect an ACL injury. A completely torn ligament usually requires surgery.
These include dislocations, sprains and strains, and make up about 20 percent of all sports injuries, said Dr. Julie Bishop, an orthopedic shoulder surgeon at Wexner Medical Center.
Shoulder injuries are most common in sports that involve a lot of overhead movement such as baseball, basketball, swimming, tennis, volleyball and weightlifting.
Injuries, such as rotator cuff strains, are most often caused by overuse. Symptoms include pain, stiffness, weakness and slipping in the shoulder.
Prevention and treatment: Strengthening wrist, arm, shoulder, neck and back muscles helps protect and decrease stress on your shoulder. If you do get injured, rest, ice, compress and elevate. Anti-inflammatory medication such as ibuprofen or naproxen usually is your best options. Your doctor might also recommend physical therapy and other treatments.
If your ankle swells after twisting and becomes painful, you’ve likely sprained it. This occurs when the ligaments on the outside of the ankle stretch and tear.
Prevention and treatment: Warm up, do foot and ankle strengthening exercises and be careful when walking, running or working on uneven surfaces.
Wear shoes that fit well and are made for whatever activity you are doing. Treat ankle sprains with RICE and anti-inflammatory drugs. If you have a more severe injury, your doctor might give you a boot, brace or cast to wear to keep your ligaments and joint in place while they heal.
Tennis or golf elbow
Both are injures to the tendons attaching your forearm muscles to the bone at your elbow. Repetitive motion is the culprit in these injuries. Tennis elbow often is felt on the outside of the elbow; golf elbow often affects the inside.
Prevention and treatment: Stretch and strengthen your arm muscles with exercises such as wrist curls and reverse wrist curls. Improving your swing technique and wearing an elbow brace also can help. Resting your elbow and applying ice or heat several times a day for one to two weeks usually works.
Hamstring injuries are especially common in athletes who participate in sports that require sprinting, such as track, soccer and basketball. Falling forward while water-skiing also can cause hamstring strains.
The pain, which can be severe, is caused by tears in the muscles or tendons. These injuries can be slow to heal because of the constant stress applied to the injured tissue from walking. Depending on the extent of the injury, recovery can take six to 12 months.
Prevention and treatment: Build warm-up and strengthening exercises such as hamstring kicks, squats and lunges into your routine. Yoga can be helpful, too. Patients with minor strains might progress quickly to strengthening exercises in their treatment, whereas those with full-thickness ruptures might require surgery. A professional therapist also might use sports massage techniques or ultrasound in addition to rehab.
You know you’ve got this one when you feel shooting pain down the front of your legs. Shin splints are most often brought on by running — especially when starting a more strenuous training program. But they’re also a common problem for dancers, gymnasts and people who aren’t used to exercising or who have increased their intensity too quickly.
Prevention and treatment: Many people do well with a simple commercial arch support; others might need an orthopedic device. Stretching, exercising slowly and knowing your limits can help prevent shin splints.
Minor shin splits can be improved with ice, rest and over-the-counter pain medication. Sometimes shin splints can be a result of a stress fracture, so persistent pain might signal a visit to a doctor.
These are caused by a blow to the head, a fall or another injury that jars or shakes the brain. Some people have obvious symptoms such as dizziness, headaches, difficulty concentrating or loss of balance; other people don’t. You don’t have to lose consciousness to have a concussion.
Athletes who participate in contact sports such as boxing, football, hockey, soccer and wrestling most often get concussions. But gymnasts, skiers and others who sometimes hit their heads also are at risk.
Prevention and treatment: Helmets can protect against skull fractures and more serious brain injuries, but they cannot prevent concussions. Some trainers recommend neck muscle strengthening to reduce neck fatigue and injury.
With rest, most people fully recover from a concussion. Some take a few hours; others a few weeks. It’s important to know that after a concussion the brain is more sensitive to damage. Make sure to avoid activities that might injure you again during recovery.
— Encarnacion Pyle writes for The Columbus (Ohio) Dispatch. She can be reached at email@example.com or follow @EncarnitaPyle on Twitter.