Every injury can be prevented. The problem is, as humans, we are all fallible. Despite being a doctor who specializes in sports medicine and studies the musculoskeletal system, I have also seen my fair share of injuries.

Sports injuries are very common. In fact, one research study indicated an average of more than eight million sports- and recreation-related injuries occur each year. Half of those incidents required treatment.

Types of common sports injuries

There are many injuries that happen in both sports and everyday life. Common injuries can vary with the season or with the sport.

The ski season is on its way out, but typically, ACL tears and shoulder dislocations are common injuries in fresh powder. When it is icy, wrist fractures prevail. More traumatic injuries like concussions are associated with aggressive sports like football and hockey. In the warmer months, sports like baseball or track and field can result in more chronic sprains and strains, such as little league elbow and shin splints.

Regardless of the season, it is important to recognize when someone is injured, what type of injury it is, and how it affects the individual athlete. Some of the most common sports injuries include broken bones, dislocations, torn ligaments, sprains and strains.

Doctors must try to evaluate the individual factors of each patient. For example, a young runner may have an injury that appears to be a simple sprain. A closer look reveals that she injured her growth plate. For adults, this would not be a consideration. But it must be considered in children. In this case, the young patient was happy to be back to running pain free after a short period on crutches.

If you have any sudden pain during a workout, stop what you are doing and get medical attention.

“Are you hurt, or are you hurting?”

When you think about it, pain is sometimes a part of life. There are typical aches and pains we all might experience from a strenuous workout or physical labor. Then there is pain that goes beyond those typical aches and may be “hurt.”

When talking to young athletes training in any sport, I recall a saying from a mentor that has stayed with me since my training. I find it helpful to ask, “Are you hurt or are you hurting?” Many kids are experiencing healthy and normal discomfort from training hard for the first time. They are also going through a complex growing process and can sometimes feel pain from natural and normal physiology. Coaches, trainers, and medical professionals must help athletes distinguish the difference between acceptable discomfort and a true problem.

Dysfunction is also important to address. This occurs when something is simply not working right. For example, your knee seems to lock up or give out, or you have difficulty making it work the way it once did. If you are experiencing this, consider being evaluated by a doctor.

It is important to look at the complete person when evaluating and considering the best treatment plan. Injury affects the body’s entire kinetic chain. But, when someone is unable to play in next week's game or perform their required work duties, they can also experience an emotional impact. Treatment of an injury must be appropriate for the injury, but also for each individual patient.

Prevention as the best medicine

There are three key components of exercise: stretching, strengthening, and cardio. Going for a walk is wonderful exercise for your body, but it can fall short for your overall fitness. Try to add a few key strengthening exercises as well, with an emphasis on core and abdominal regions.

Stretching is vital. Whether you are going for a walk or doing a weight training session, make an effort to include stretching. It is best to stretch muscles that have been warmed up a bit. I tend to stretch at the end of the run or workout because it feels like a good way to cool down and complete any exercise routine.

Remember to hold your stretch. Try to maintain it for at least 45 seconds or so. Avoid any type of ballistic motions or bouncing.

When you are trying to strengthen your muscles, practice going through the motions without weight first. It is important to appreciate your body’s capabilities before stressing it. If you are planning to lift heavy weights, have someone available to assist you.

There is an endless amount of fitness equipment available for various exercises and sports. The most important advice I can give is to trust your body first. No matter how expensive or fancy a piece of equipment may be, it might not be right for you.

A final tip

When talking to your doctor, there is no such thing as a stupid question. If you have pain, or if something is of concern to you, talk about it. Even if there is nothing wrong, a doctor can provide reassurance and might be able to improve your performance.

For more information on our sports medicine program, visit our website.

Philip A. Salko, MD

Philip A. Salko, MD

Dr. Philip Salko is a family medicine physician with a focus in primary care sports medicine with the Lifespan Orthopedics Institute. He specializes in sports medicine, interventional pain management and osteoporosis.