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Sports injuries are all too common.
Johns Hopkins Medicine reports that, out of the 30 million children and teens participating in organized sports in the United States annually, more than one in ten—3.5 million kids in total—are injured while engaging in these and other recreational activities.
The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) adds that approximately 2 million American adults visit the emergency room every year due to sports-related injuries as well. Ranging from mild to severe, the type of injury seen most often depends largely on the sport played, with bicycling responsible for the most injuries, followed by basketball and baseball or softball.
Not only do these injuries come with physical ramifications such as dealing with pain and discomfort but many times they also keep these younger and older sports enthusiasts from taking part in their favorite games. So how can they be treated in an effort to minimize the amount of time spent away from the sports they love?
Top 5 most common sports injuries
The first step involves identifying which types of sports injuries tend to occur most often. Daniel Pozarnsky, DC, of Balance Chiropractic & Rehab in Fargo, North Dakota, says that these often include:
- Concussions. Also referred to as traumatic brain injuries or TBIs, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that approximately 2.8 million Americans seek medical attention annually for concussions every year. Sadly, the number of children diagnosed with a TBI has actually doubled in recent years.
- Back issues. Pain in the lower back tends to appear most often from activities such as “squatting, deadlifting and other strenuous activities during training,” Pozarnsky says, adding that running can result in back issues too.
- Lower extremity injuries. From lateral ankle sprains created by engaging in “almost any sport with quick cutting-type movements,” Pozarnsky says that some of the other most common lower extremity injuries are “of course, anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) and medial collateral ligament (MCL) sprains, strains, and tears with all sports that involve any type of quick-cutting, jumping, and impact.”
- Rotator cuff sprains and strains. HHS indicates that shoulder injuries are most common for individuals aged 25 to 40 who participate in bicycling and football, accounting for 13 percent of total injuries in each of these sports.
- Rib pain. Pozarnsky says that this pain-related issue is one “which we see commonly in volleyball and overhead sports,” and is typically caused by irritated rib heads.
Oftentimes, one of the first responses to sports injuries such as these is the RICE method (rest, ice, compression, and elevation). While rest can help the injured area heal, sometimes heat is recommended over cooling. Which do you apply when?
Ice versus heat for sports injury treatment
“There’s a big debate on this one,” Pozarnsky says. “The rule of thumb I give my patients is ice to relieve pain, heat to decrease pain from stiffness.” Why?
“Ice decreases input from pain receptors and decreases swelling,” Pozarnsky says, “while heat does a greater job on the healing process. It helps increase muscle function, pushes out swelling by increasing blood flow, and also keeps the lymphatic system from becoming less porous, helping detox swelling and byproducts of inflammation from areas of injury.”
Pozarnsky adds that an easy way to think about ice and heat application is to “use ice the first 24 to 48 hours and then switch to heat to increase function of the injured area.”
Compression and elevation guidelines
In regard to the remaining two RICE protocols—compression and elevation—Pozarnsky has specific guidelines as to when these should be applied as well.
“Injuries should be elevated or wrapped immediately if there is significant swelling in a joint,” he says. “This helps push fluid through the lymphatic system to get disposed of.”
The University of Michigan (U of M) adds that, when wrapping an injury, “don’t wrap it too tightly, because this can cause more swelling below the affected area.” Signs that this may be the case include an increase in pain or numbness or tingling.
U of M further informs that proper elevation involves keeping the injured area at or above heart level, as this will help reduce swelling.
Topicals for pain management
Another option for treating sports injuries, especially if the goal is immediate pain management, is topical analgesics.
Research published in the journal South African Family Practice agrees and explains that topical analgesics containing methyl salicylate, eucalyptus, menthol, capsicum, and camphor are often beneficial when dealing with sports-related minor strains and sprains. They work by stimulating pain and temperature receptors.
Pozarnsky says that there are also things you can do in conjunction with using topicals to get even more “bang for your buck.” This includes using topical analgesics with ice or heat treatments to enhance the healing process. He also recommends pairing topicals with movement exercises to aid in recovery when engaging in physical therapy techniques.
“Overall, they’re just a good option for making recovery less painful and more feasible,” Pozarnsky says, “as opposed to being locked up on the sofa without even trying to recover due to debilitating pain.”
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