Sports Injuries – When Should You Stop?
Athletes and highly active individuals who frequently engage in sports are most likely to suffer sports injuries at different times and due to various causes. Some of these can be minor and will only last several hours or a few days. There are also more serious ones that will require more drastic measures including therapy lasting several months. Other athletes have to stop playing competitively for life if they wish to prevent further damage to the affected area. Some individuals who choose to tolerate pain and other existing sports injuries risk being debilitated for life. Here are some signs if you should stop altogether.
Sports Injuries at a Glance
There are four main body structures involved in sports injuries namely the muscle, tendon, cartilage, and ligament. Muscles contract so that the body and body parts can move. Tendon adjoins the muscle to bone. Cartilage serves as protective padding for bones in the joint and ligament joins bone to bone at the joint. Each of these will have special functions so that athletes and players can perform various activities in individual and team games. All these are needed for throwing or catching the ball, using a bat or racquet, running, jumping, and other usual tasks in sports, depending on the type of game being played.
Sports injuries can be categorized depending on the duration of the injury and its development. There are two main categories, acute and chronic. Acute sports injuries are those that happen instantly. These usually come with severe pain such as breaking a leg or spraining an ankle. Chronic sports injuries are those that gradually develop over time due to wear and tear such as having a tennis elbow or joint problems. Athletes who re-injure a body part can suffer from acute sports injury and develop chronic problems such as recurrent wrist pain, knee pain, or other problems.
Sports injuries can also be classified into soft tissue injury and hard tissue injuries. Soft tissue injuries pertain to damage done to the muscle, tendon, joint, or ligament. Examples if this are bruises, sprains, and torn ligaments. Hard tissue injury pertains to damage done to the bone such as a broken arm or finger. The majority of sports-related injury involves soft tissue.
The Non-Serious and Serious Injuries
Here’s how to identify critical and non-critical sports injuries.
1. Non-Serious Sports Injuries
Some injuries are considered non-serious and can be completely treated within a few days. Examples are strains and sprains such as ankle sprain, wrist sprain, hamstring strain, forearm sprain, and calf muscle sprain. Most athletes can continue playing even after suffering from the acute injury by wrapping bandages around the area to improve circulation and provide stability to the area.
Also, putting an ice pack on the area can relieve inflammation as well as soothe pain and ease discomfort. Especially with mild and moderate injury, players can still perform well. Other non-serious sports injuries include nosebleeds, shin splints, and minor concussions. Athletes can still play consistently without suffering any physical consequences afterwards.
2. Serious Sports Injuries
Some types of injury can lead to long term problems if left untreated or if the athletes continue to play or use the damaged body part. In some instances, athletes will no longer be able to play or will perform poorly because of severe pain, discomfort, or lack of function in the area. Examples are suffering a fracture, muscle tear, severe damage to the joint, severe concussion, and nerve injury. Individuals with dislocated shoulders may immediately return to play after a physical therapist puts the joint back in its socket and apply a cold pack.
Doctors have to thoroughly assess the physical appearance of the athlete as well as consider verbal cues and other existing symptoms to categorize the injury as severe or not. Seemingly minor injuries also have to be looked out for carefully so that the person can prevent long term damage. Wear and tear can lead to permanent deterioration of the body part. Some athletes may suffer the effects several years afterwards.
Dealing with Symptoms
Individuals should be watchful of sports injury warning signs and symptoms. It is important to report to the doctor all the unusual effects and symptoms you’re feeling since they are only limited to checking your vital signs and doing visual inspection in the beginning.
1. Pain and Tenderness
Pain is one of the most common symptoms of sports injuries. The athlete can feel pain in the affected area or in remote places depending on the type of injury and location. Usually, athletes will feel pain in the muscle or experience pain in other parts if the damage originates from a related spot.
Pain in the joints is also common among athletes like basketball and tennis players. Some muscle and joint pain can be helped by applying wraps, supports, and braces. Athletes should not feel any discomfort after application. However, pain that lasts more than 48 hours should be checked by a doctor via an x-ray and other diagnostic tools. Also check for the presence of tenderness in muscles. You can assess it by pressing a finger on the affected area. Press the same finger on other areas and compare the degree of pain. Indicate your comparisons to a diagnostician.
Swelling or inflammation is also common among sports injuries. This is easily observed by looking for swelling in the affected area together with redness, pain, and heat. Joint inflammation will make it difficult for players to move the affected area. You might also notice a clicking sound due to tendons moving over each other. Putting wraps around the area for mild and moderate injuries can still help players finish the game.
3. Weakness and Lack of Function or Motion
Lack of blood and oxygenation to the affected area because of injury will make it very difficult to move. Some players will only be able to move the affected area at 50% to 80% than the usual. Range of motion is hindered so athletes may have to sit it out for the rest of the game and rest a few days to improve their status. Some injuries that cause muscle weakness and limited range of motion can be helped by massaging the area and applying liniment to improve blood circulation. The use of stress balls or small weights may also increase function and strength to the area.
4. Other Signs and Symptoms
Injury acquired during games can also result to other signs and symptoms such as fainting, profuse sweating, cold sweats, dizziness, headache, bleeding, muscle stiffness, numbness, and tingling sensations. The signs and symptoms may be physical or neurological. The extent of the damage will also matter since some symptoms can be indicative of more serious injury. Sometimes, serious conditions can have no symptoms at all until conditions get worse.
Treating the Problem
There are a few rules to follow when experiencing certain injuries on the court or other sports arenas. The first thing to do when you feel pain or any type of unusual symptom or discomfort is to stop playing. Sit in a bench or lie down on the floor. Allow the coach or physician to assess for any damage and the visible signs that may indicate the type of injury and extent. Put the injured part in a compression bandage or put wraps or support. Also apply cold pack for 10 to 15 minutes.
Allow the area to warm again or by putting a hot pack before reintroducing the cold pack. It is best to elevate your legs if the injury is in the ankles or legs to prevent swelling and increase circulation to the brain. Minor sports injuries can be fixed quickly after the application of wraps and bandages. More serious injuries should prompt the doctor to pull you out of the game completely and assess for further damage.
Players should not be allowed to play again or forced to withstand the pain. Continuing to play even after suffering a sprain or strain can lead to further damage. Some problems may be mild or repairable until the athlete continues to cause strain and cause further damage to the area. The injured part can continue to weaken if not allowed to rest. The injury can progress to a more serious one, requiring more drastic measures like surgery. Athletes who suffer fractures should not be allowed to play. The injured part should be kept immobile and they have to assume the proper position to allow circulation to the affected areas.
Stop or Continue Playing?
Some players are able to tolerate the injury by playing for the rest of the game after putting support socks and stockings. These can also be worn as the player is undergoing rehabilitation or therapy to improve the condition of the affected area.
If the area still feels swollen or very painful after putting wraps or stockings, it is best to stop playing. Let the physician make the necessary checks such as pressing the affected area with his fingers or checking for broken bones or torn ligaments. Some players can play intermittently with the bandages or wraps on. They can still perform well with the aid of supports for several minutes. It is important that they rest so that the area receives enough oxygen and to prevent swelling. Recovery will be faster if the parts are well-oxygenated.
The athlete should also be watchful for any serious sign or symptom that indicates how the injury may be getting worse if he returns to the game. It is better to stop playing complete and miss one game rather than sacrifice several months’ worth of rehabilitation.
Kaki Zell - Vice President of Sales, Marketing, eCommerce at Legs-4-Life LLC
Kaki holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Business Administration and Management from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. She’s been working in the medical device industry over 11 years and currently serves on the Board of Directors for the Greensboro Science Center.