From leg pain to shoulder pain, from kids to senior, sports injury prevention is a critical topic. By properly warming up, practicing safe movements, and reducing the chance of overuse injuries, though, you can help prevent sports injuries from occurring. This is important, because the worst sports injuries can lead to chronic pain conditions that can last a lifetime. If you have been impacted by a sports injury, we also discuss the best at-home remedies for treating them.
Basic sports injury prevention tips
1. Prevent injuries before they occur
The best way to avoid sports injuries is to take precautions and prevent injuries from occurring. Any sort of sports activity or workout should start with a warm-up of stretches and light exercises. This increases blood flow and flexibility.
While there have recently been some studies questioning the necessity of warming up prior to physical activity, common sense still dictates initiating some movement in your body before diving into the game. Everyone from professional athletes to Olympians move their bodies before they begin their sport. It’s hard to imagine a quarterback throwing a 50-yard pass fresh out of bed in the morning.
Take your cue from the professionals and prepare your body with a little stretching, some jumping jacks, or a quick jog.
2. Don’t push yourself too hard, too fast
In the heat of the moment, it is possible to push yourself too hard, too fast. If you lead a sedentary life for 364 days of the year and then participate in a full-contact weekend of football with your friends, chances are excellent that you will come away with an injury.
Although it can be difficult to hold back when you are having fun (and feeling good in the moment), try to work up to more rigorous sports instead of jumping right in. Work on building strength and stamina with strength training and cardiovascular exercises before you put in 110%.
3. Wear the right equipment for sports injury prevention
Having the proper equipment, such as footwear, is also important to avoiding sports injuries. Shoes that have adequate support and fit properly are a must, as is having the correct shoes for each activity. This can aid in prevention of several conditions, such as heel spurs, sprained ankles, and shin splints.
4. Avoid overuse injuries
Many sports injuries are a direct result of performing the same action over and over again. Sports injury prevention focuses on reducing these repetitive movements, when possible. While this repetition builds up skill and muscle memory, it also places strain on the joints, muscles, tendons, and ligaments of the area being used.
Mix it up with cross-training. Cross-training exercises different parts of the body to give the most-used areas some much-needed rest, or it distributes the burden of motion over the whole body instead of just one area. If you are a tennis player, giving your upper body a break with rollerblading or surfing is a great way to minimize the possibility of injury due to overuse.
5. Allow your body time to heal
To make sure a sports injury doesn’t become recurring or chronic pain, patients should allow adequate time for the injury to heal.
Once a sports injury has healed, activity should be resumed gradually. If pain is experienced again, it means that the injury isn’t healed yet and more rest is required. The same guidelines for avoiding a sports injury, such as warming up before activity, avoiding overexertion, and obtaining proper sports equipment, can aid in avoiding recurring or chronic sports injuries.
6. Inspect the playing area for any debris or holes
For games like soccer, especially, check the playing area for any debris, holes, or other items that could hurt you. Checking for these items early, rather than later, is a great way to get ready for the game and practice sports injury prevention.
7. Use your protective equipment
If official rules suggest wearing protective equipment, use it. Even if it’s not suggested, use any protective or assistive devices you need to play the game safely. This may include knee braces or elbow pads. Learn more about basic sports injury prevention in our infographic on soccer injuries. Soccer is an important sport to be aware of, since many youth sports injuries occur on the soccer field.
Sports injury prevention for leg pain
Sports injuries are a common occurrence among both professional and non-professional athletes. Out of the seven most common sports injuries, five affect the legs. If ignored, some of these sports injuries can lead to chronic leg pain from sports injuries.
8. Be aware of the causes of leg pain from sports injuries
Many sports injuries that can eventually lead to chronic leg pain are the result of overexertion or a poor warm-up routine.
A sprain occurs when a muscle is pulled too far, such as when the ankle rolls while running or walking. Indeed, sprained ankles are so common that approximately 25,000 occur every day. Maintaining a regular warm-up routine will keep muscles strong and flexible, which can help prevent sprained muscles. Another simple way for sports injury prevention with sprains–especially sprained ankles–is to pay attention. Unnoticed obstacles or uneven surfaces can cause a fall that leads to a sports injury.
The recommended treatment for a sprained muscle is the RICE method: Rest, Ice, Compress, and Elevate. If a person is still experiencing pain, over-the-counter medications, such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAIDs), can alleviate discomfort. Once the sprain has begun to heal, it’s important to become mobile again, although patients should be careful to avoid overexertion of the injured muscle.
We’ll discuss sport injuries treatments later in this post.
9. Avoid foot pain conditions from sports injuries
Other potential causes of leg pain from sports injuries have to do with the connective tissue surrounding the heel bone.
The large bone forming the heel of the foot, called the calcaneus, is surrounded by fibrous tissue called the plantar fascia. The plantar fascia connects the heel to the ball of the foot. When this connective tissue is subjected to excessive strain, it can become painful and inflamed. This condition is called plantar fasciitis.
When the plantar fascia around the heel bone degenerates, though, it can put excess pressure on the heel bone, which can in turn lead to the formation of heel spurs. These are spur-shaped calcifications that usually develop on the bottom or back of the heel bone. Heel spurs are sometimes painless enough to go without notice, but other times heel spurs are to blame for chronic leg pain. This calcification is sometimes described as feeling like a knife or pin trying to poke through the skin. People who put excessive strain on their feet, such as athletes or those who spend a lot of time standing, are most at risk for heel spurs.
The pain from heel spurs, like that from other sports injuries, is sometimes responsive to over-the-counter pain medications. Orthotic inserts or shoes can also alleviate pain by correcting the underlying causes of heel spur formation, like biomechanical imbalance. In some cases, a physician might recommend an injection of corticosteroids to lessen painful inflammation.
More than 90% of people who suffer from plantar fasciitis and heel spurs experience relief from non-surgical methods. However, if a person hasn’t experienced a reduction in pain after a year, surgery might become necessary. During surgery to correct plantar fasciitis, the affected tissue might be cut to relieve the tension. Surgery to correct heel spurs usually entails the removal of the bone growths.
10. Protect your hamstrings to prevent pain from sports injuries
Another common sports injury that can lead to chronic leg pain is a hamstring strain. Proper stretching and warming up are crucial components of sports injury prevention for this area of the body.
The hamstring, rather than a string, is a group of muscles running along the back of the thigh. With a minor hamstring strain, one or more of these muscles might be pulled too far. With a more serious hamstring strain, there might be some tearing of the muscles. Pain from a hamstring strain can range from minor and manageable, to so severe that even standing is impossible. These strains are common during activities involving sudden starts or stops, running, and jumping.
In very severe cases, a hamstring strain might require corrective surgery. However, most hamstring strains heal on their own if the affected person follows some basic treatments. The RICE method is effective for this sports injury, as are NSAIDs. Additionally, exercises to strengthen the muscles on the front of the thigh can prevent further hamstring strains.
11. Avoid shin splints
Shin splints, or pain along the bone on the front of the shin, are also quite common causes of leg pain from sports injuries. This condition is typically a result of overworking the muscles, tendons, and bone tissue of the legs.
For shin splints, as for so many other sports injuries, proper warm-ups and careful avoidance of overexertion can prevent the condition. If shin splints occur, rest, icing, and over-the-counter pain medications are usually sufficient to alleviate the pain.
Preventing youth sports injuries
Having kids usually means a busy schedule packed with activities. Sports are probably at the top of that list. It may be karate, soccer, little league, basketball, or even dance but in any case you are probably running ragged to make sure each child makes it to their activity on time. Not only do you have to make it to games, but there are also weekly or even daily practice sessions.
While the time to do all these things can be tight, it is important not to ignore the safety aspect of youth exercise. Kids sports are designed, in general, to be safe but sports injuries can happen at any time. It is critical that you, as their parent, take these incidents seriously to prevent long-term pain.
Research on youth sports injuries
In October 2014, the University of Alabama at Birmingham published a study about youth sports injuries. Most importantly, they looked at the patterns of juvenile injuries in relation to sports and exercise. They reviewed the records of two and a half million children who participated in sports and had been treated at a doctor’s office or emergency room for injuries. The most common sports injuries were caused by basketball, football, bicycling, playgrounds, and soccer.
Researchers believe that many of these recurring sports injuries can be prevented if parents and their kids take the right steps during sports and play preparation.
From David Schwebel, Ph.D, director of the UAB Youth Safety Lab:
“We see this most clearly in the early years. Children show increasing independence from their parents, and they’re learning what their body can and can’t do. Children have to constantly evaluate their body’s capacity in terms of balancing, reaching, jumping or leaping, or hitting an opponent or a teammate. Part of that evaluation is physical, part of it is judgment, and part is in cognitive and decision-making skills.”
The study is quick to point out that parents shouldn’t be discouraged from allowing their children to remain physically active in sports and recreation. They note that the positive health benefits are far more important than the risk of injury. The researchers simply stress that safety should be a top priority for parents and the adults supervising these activities.
12. Know the most common sports injuries in kids
Sports injury prevention starts with knowing where (and when) injuries are most likely to happen. The most common sports injuries that occur in children include:
- Concussions: This may be the most concerning of childhood injuries. They are very common in football. Even the National Football League is starting to take head injuries more seriously after years of sweeping it under the rug. Children who have sustained a head injury should be watched closely and monitored for complications.
- Repetitive use or overuse injuries: More common with organized sports than playground activities, these injuries can include things such as stress fractures and tennis elbow. These injuries can result in chronic pain if they are not treated effectively at the onset.
- Strains and sprains: These may be the most common injuries among children and can happen during organized sports actives as well as general play such as bicycling or playground games. They can happen from an inconvenient injury such as twisting the ankle or due to overuse.
- Broken bones: So many kids don’t make it past childhood without experiencing a broken bone. Generally this type of injury can be set easily with a cast and will heal on its own with rest. More serious broken bones may require surgery or other forms of treatment. Again, the injury needs to be monitored so any pain does not become chronic.
- Tendonitis: This inflammation of the tendon, often in the ankle or heel, can cause pain and difficulty with range of motion. It is common in sports when running is a focus such as in football or soccer. This generally heals with treatment as well but can become chronic.
- Arthritis: Some children experience a premature wearing away of the protective cartilage in the joints, which can cause symptoms of arthritis.
Each injury will require different attention or treatment so it is recommended that parents not put off medical attention even for sports injuries that appear minor at the beginning. Bumps and bruises are normal but tendonitis, concussions, and other injuries need to be taken seriously.
13. Avoid overtraining for the best sports injury prevention
For kids and adults alike, one of the most effective ways to avoid repetitive use injuries and sports burnout is to stop overtraining. It can be easy to let the schedules get away from us as parents, but it is our responsibility to ensure the safety of our kids. You can do this by considering some of the following guidelines.
14. Take days off each week
Taking time off is one of the most critical parts of sports injury prevention, especially for growing kids. Make sure your children aren’t training or participating in sports every day of the week. They need days off to rest their growing bones and muscles.
15. Take a two to three month break
Depending on their sport of choice, encourage kids to take time off when not in season. This may be during the summer or during the winter. There is no need for every kid to play every sport all year long.
16. Focus on the fun
Encourage your kids to participate in sports for the love of the game, not because of an overly competitive drive either in yourself or your children. It is important to remain balanced.
17. Watch for burnout
Your child may be the best resource for their health management. Are they complaining about generalized muscle pain? Are they disinterested in playing the game any longer? Paying attention to these signals (and taking action on them) is one of the easiest sports injury prevention tips to overlook.
18. Get a complete health and nutrition picture
Yes, activity is great for kids but you should also make sure that they are eating a healthy and balanced diet. The right nutrients will help them keep up the right energy and heal when they are injured. It’s sports injury prevention that can happen on and off the field.
At-home treatments for minor sports injuries
All of the sports injury prevention tips won’t protect you from accidents 100% of the time. If you suffer from a sports injury, it’s just as important to treat them appropriately to encourage fast healing.
If you do find yourself with a sports injury, it’s important to first evaluate whether or not you need to see your doctor. If there is any doubt in your mind, a quick call to their office can help you make that decision.
If you and your doctor decide your injury can be treated at home, follow this protocol:
- Stop activity: Immediately stop the activity that caused the injury.
- RICE: If there is inflammation due to injury, follow the time-tested formula of rest, ice, compression, and elevation.
- Immobilization: If it is possible to do so, a splint, bandage, or sling may be appropriate to support the affected area.
- Over-the-counter medications: Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) like ibuprofen can be a good way to handle inflammation and pain.
It is important to note that if your symptoms change or worsen, a visit to a pain doctor may be in order. Any injury accompanied by fever or symptoms that get worse over time instead of improving should be evaluated by a professional. Even if the sports injury takes time to heal, a doctor can set your mind at ease.
How do you practice sports injury prevention, both for yourself and your kids? If you’re suffering from chronic pain caused by a sports injury, we encourage you to reach out to a pain doctor today to discuss treatment options. Pain isn’t normal and you don’t have to suffer in silence. There is help.