In recent years, increasing numbers of people are becoming more physically active due to the many health benefits that exercise has to offer. For some, these benefits can come with a price: sports injuries. Fortunately, most sports injuries can be treated, and most people are able to return back to their activities. Some of the most common sports injuries are sprains, strains, fractures and dislocations.
A sprain is a stretch or tear of a ligament. A ligament is a band of connective tissue that joins the end of one bone to another. The severity of a sprain can range from a mild stretch to a full tear. Signs of a sprain include pain, swelling, bruising, and joint looseness or instability.
A strain is a twist, pull, or tear of a muscle or tendon. A tendon is a cord of tissue connecting a muscle to a bone. Some signs of a strain include pain, muscle spasms, and loss of strength or function.
A fracture is a break of a bone. A fracture can occur suddenly or develop over time. Sudden or acute fractures usually cause pain, swelling, bruising, and loss of function. If a break of the skin occurs with a fracture, it is a medical emergency. A stress fracture is a type of broken bone that can develop over time. The most common symptom of a stress fracture is pain at the site of the fracture with weight bearing activity. This type of fracture is usually associated with repetitive activities.
A dislocation occurs when two bones that come together to form a joint separate. It is usually caused by a sudden traumatic collision. A joint dislocation is an emergency and requires urgent medical treatment.
Whether an injury is acute or chronic, there is never a good reason to try to “play through” the pain. Continuing the activity can cause further harm. You should seek medical care if:
- the injury causes severe pain, swelling, or numbness;
- you cannot tolerate weight on the area;
- the pain or dull ache of an old injury is accompanied by increased swelling or instability.
Often, the initial treatment of a sports injury should include the use of the RICE method. These four steps should be started as soon as possible after the injury and continue for at least 48 hours.
- Rest: Reduce regular exercise or activities of daily living as needed. Support the injured area to avoid weight bearing and/or further injury.
- Ice: Apply an ice pack to the injured area for 20 minutes at a time, four to eight times per day. To avoid cold injury or frostbite, do not apply the ice for more than 20 minutes at a time every two hours.
- Compression: Compression of the area may help reduce swelling. A simple elastic wrap or compression splint may be required. Applying the wrap or splint too tightly could result in decreased circulation and numbness, or more severe injury.
- Elevation: If possible, keep the injured area elevated on a pillow, above the heart, to help decrease swelling.
Although RICE can be helpful, sometimes further treatment is necessary. For example, medications such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatories drugs (NSAIDs) can reduce pain and swelling. Immobilization in a sling, splint, brace or cast can reduce movement, which may reduce pain and facilitate healing. Physical therapy or home exercises are sometimes recommended to increase the speed of recovery and to help the patient return to sports. Surgery also may be needed to stabilize or repair the injured area. Fortunately, most sports injuries do not need surgery.
At Castle Orthopaedics and Sports Medicine, our physicians will fully assess your sports injury and organize your treatment plan. Our professional services also include X-ray, MRI, physical therapy, hand therapy, and surgery.