The curse of all athletes, regardless of their ability or their sport is injuries. They’re difficult to overcome, they’re time consuming and for so many they’re a common occurrence. It is not just part time amateur athletes with poor fitness levels who struggle with injuries, some of the most notable names in world sport have seen their careers blighted by a series of injuries, take Michael Owen, Andrew Flintoff or Jonny Wilkinson for example.
It is often presumed that those who participate in contact sports are more prone to injury. However tennis players, golfers and cricketers are not exempt from the pain and anguish of injuries.
Although the nature of contact sports such as football and rugby does increase the risk of impact injuries, the repetitive actions involved with sports like cricket, golf and tennis puts their participants at risk too. As this article will go on to explain, there are several ways in which injuries can occur, this is called ‘mechanism of injury’.
It is not always sports which entice injuries however, the majority of fitness exercises can put your body under unnecessary short term strain in order to improve long term well being. Blisters are a fine example of a general fitness injury which can be picked up during any exercise. Whether it is too much running in a new pair of trainers or blistering your hands whilst lifting dumbbells in the gym.
Not every injury is as easy to overcome as a blister however and it is the modern attitude of training or playing despite injuries which sees so many amateur sports men and women on the treatment table more than they are on the pitch.
This article aims to identify and examine a selection of the most common sports injuries. Each injury will be analysed in terms of mechanism of injury, providing reasons for occurrence, prevention’s, treatments and sports with which each injury is most associated in an attempt to provide a thorough evaluation.
Tendinitis is painful anywhere around your body but Achilles tendinitis is particularly unpleasant and in very serious cases can make even walking a very difficult task. Tendons connect muscle to bone and are designed to withstand tension, particularly around joints or areas of increased movement. The Achilles tendon is connected at the back of the foot in the heel area and stretches up the back of the leg to the gastrocnemius (calf) muscle.
The achilles tendon withstands most tension during running and jumping exercises, the spring- like movement involved with both activities can put a large amount of pressure on the tendon, this however is what it is designed to do. Overuse during such activities is the main cause of achilles tendonitis.
The Achilles tendon is similar to an elastic band in the way that it can stretch and relax in order to assist with bodily movements. Like an elastic band though, too much movement in a short period of time can cause wear and tear and it most serious cases the tendon can snap. The mechanism of this injury is simple, overuse can cause frailties and cause the tendon to crumble or rupture. Rarely is Achilles tendonitis caused by any form of contact or impact and rarely is the tendon easily repaired.
It is the push off movement and constant use of the tendon that causes the tendonitis to occur, long jumpers, triple jumpers and runners are at the most risk from this type of injury but there are steps they can take to reduce the risk. The most practical way to prevent Achilles tendonitis is to wear suitable footwear whilst exercising. Any footwear with a heel, no matter how big, will put unnecessary strain on the tendon when the foot is planted. Not only will the footwear increase comfort but also reduce the risk of injury.
A muscle strain is different to a sprain. A sprain is a joint injury which is caused by an overstretched ligament. A muscle strain on the other hand is a muscle tendon injury which is caused by the over stretching of a muscle.
Sprains usually occur in the ankle, particularly during trips and falls where body weight causes the ankle to buckle. Muscle strains or pulled muscles as they are more commonly know usually occur during more vigorous sporting activity and are caused by over stretching. This could include reaching to catch a ball in cricket or leaning to one side to tackle an opponent in rugby.
In relation to mechanism of injury, strained muscles can cause stiffness in the affected area and in serious cases can cause the skin to become discolored and bruised. The bruising can often be very deep in color and extremely painful to touch.
Muscle strains happen in all sports and although they can cause a lengthy lay- off, they are preventable to a certain degree. A thorough warm- up can seriously reduce the risk of a strained muscle, regardless of the muscle or the sport in question.
If you imagine a muscle to be like a piece of blu- tac. Stretch a piece of blu- tac straight from the packet and you will not have to pull it far before it snaps. Compare this to when the blu- tac has been warmed in your hands for a while, you should find it stretches further.
Although many people dismiss shin splints as a minor side effect of running on hard ground, they can actually cause serious damage to the lower leg and in some cases can develop into a fracture. Shin splints themselves are actually hairline fractures of the tibia, the bone which runs down the front of the lower leg. As explained, they can develop into stress fractures if not treated and the mechanism of injury can then become much more serious..
As mentioned above, hard ground can be the main cause of shin splints, running on such a surface over a prolonged period of time can cause a vibration sensation in the shins, eventually causing the hairline fractures. Fast bowlers in cricket regularly suffer with shin splints because they are constantly running at a fast pace over hard ground, the same goes for long distance runners.
Unfortunately there is no magic cure for shin splints apart from plenty of rest. If the hairline fractures are yet to develop into anything more serious then rest can help the tibia fuse back together. Ice can also be applied to help reduce any inflammation around the area in which the fracture has occurred.
Some people are more prone to back pain than others, this can be because of the sport they participate in or because of their genetics. A variety of sports can catalyst back pain, for a number of reasons. Cyclists are often worse affected because they are required to sit with an arched back for long periods of time.
The vertebral column runs down the center of the back, housing a large proportion of your body’s nerves. Any pressure on these or the muscles, tendons, bones and ligaments in the back can cause pain. Back pain affects taller athletes more than smaller athletes, particularly when leaning over and stretching.
Lower back pain is more common that upper back pain with the majority of victims suffering from disc issues of sciatica. Although it is hard to completely prevent back pain, there are ways and means of minimizing its effect. A thorough warm- up before exercise usually has a positive effect, particularly if the warm up includes back stretches. Warming up correctly helps prepare muscles for exercise, increasing their elasticity, the major muscles of your back, the trapezius and the latissimus dorsi, are no different.
In terms of treatments, the RICE technique is usually best to follow. Rest, ice, compression and elevation. However, for those with a serious long- term back pain, medical guidelines should be followed, RICE is a short term back pain treatment.
As mentioned previously, a sprain is a ligament injury, causing a partial tear or in extreme cases a full tear. A sprained ankle is the most common of all the sprain injuries because of the exposure and freedom of the ankle joint. The lack of support around the ankle compared to the knee for example can cause the ankle to ‘roll’.
It is this rolling movement that causes the ligaments to become damaged. In relation to mechanism of injury, the roll can happen in two directions, forcing the foot either inwards or outwards. A lateral (inwards) ankle sprain is the most common, especially with sports that involve a lot of running and changing direction.
Tennis players often struggle with ankle sprains because of the nature of their sport. Similarly footballers can suffer as well as some track athletes. In reality however anyone could suffer from a sprained ankle, regardless of whether they play sport or not, something as simple as walking down a step can cause this type of injury.
Once sprained the ankle joint is naturally weaker and this can result in multiple ankle sprains. This said however, ankle support braces are very useful and can help provide additional support to the weakened ankle. As a short term remedy however it is always useful to apply the RICE method identified above, this should reduce any swelling and bruising.
Unfortunately an ankle brace is the only option to help prevent an ankle sprain. Warming up or stretching correctly has no effect as a sprain is a ligament related injury not a muscle related injury. However, after a sprain it is important that the ankle is rested as a weakened joint is more prone to another sprain.
As a generic term for several knee injuries, runner’s knee is very common, even amongst those that are not runners. Sport, fitness and physical activity as a whole can expose the body to a number of joint related injuries, runner’s knee however concerns the tendons of the knee. It is an overuse injury which can cause the tendon to become irritated.
The best way to prevent the occurrence of runner’s knee is to wear the appropriate attire whilst exercising, especially footwear. Sports which are played on a hard surface tend to cause more knee issues than those played on a soft surface. However you can’t change the surface but you can change your footwear, adopting a soft, springy trainer will be very advantageous.
If you do suffer with runner’s knee then the best treatment is ice, immediately after the occurrence of the injury if possible. This will help to reduce any inflammation and could also reduce a long term lay off to a short term lay off.
Like knees, shoulders are well used joints and unfortunately this means there are a host of injuries which can affect the shoulder. Obviously people who participate in sports such as tennis, cricket, baseball and rugby are most likely to pick up a shoulder injury because of the nature of the sport they play. However, because the shoulder joint can be so fragile it can easily be damaged with impact, this means any trips or falls in any sport could damage the shoulder.
One of the most painful shoulder injuries is a dislocation. The mechanism of injury is simple for a dislocation, the ball of the humerus bone is removed from the socket of the shoulder joint. This type of injury can affect the nerves, ligaments and tendons around the joint and even after relocation the shoulder can still be painful and is most certainly weakened.
Other shoulder injuries include sprains and strains, generally not as painful as a dislocation but at the same time not to be ignored. Volleyball players, weight lifters and swimmers are usually associated with these types of injuries because of the constant use and movement of the shoulder joint.
One of the best ways to prevent shoulder pain is to strengthen the Deloitte muscles in the shoulder. Basic weight training can assist with this type of prevention, the stronger the muscle the less likely it is to pick up a wear and tear injury.
Certainly not the most painful of injuries but cramp is certainly one of the most common. Cramp is generally caused by muscle fatigue, certainly in a sporting context. Muscle contractions can cause cramp but so can muscle shortening, in fact it is when the muscle shortens too much that cramp takes effect. Each of the body’s muscles can be affected by cramp but it is generally a condition associated with the muscles of the leg, particularly the calves.
Despite being very painful there is little which can be done to treat or prevent muscle cramps. Drinking plenty of water is generally helpful, as is stretching before and after exercise. A good level of fitness can also help prevent cramp, muscles are unlikely to go into a cramp if they are used to the workload they are being asked to do, that is why thorough training for marathons and half marathons is necessary.
Although cramp is not a sport specific injury, leg cramps only usually affect those participating in sports with a lot of leg movement, as you would expect. In relation to the information above, cramp most commonly affects athletes when they are asked to perform beyond their usual parameters. For example it is not unlikely to see footballers struggle with cramp during extra- time as their body is only used to playing 90 minutes.
ACL stands for ‘Anterior Cruciate Ligament’ and is the ligament which runs down the middle of the knee, connecting the femur to the tibia. The ligament assists with natural body movements, because the ligament is in the middle of the knee joint it can also provide support. However it is when the body moves in an unnatural way that injury can be caused to the ACL. Once the ACL is damaged the knee cannot be supported correctly, this often caused damage to the other two ligaments in the knee, the lateral ligament and the medial ligament. This is the mechanism of injury.
This injury is not sport specific and more times than not occurs without contact. A quick shift in body weight or direction can be the cause of an ACL injury, meaning the ligament can be damaged without any individual being at fault. England footballer Michael Owen famously injured his ACL in a World Cup match, there was not an opponent within five yards of him at the time, the sequence of videos at the bottom of this article show this injury.
Research suggests that additional fitness training can reduce the chances of developing an ACL injury. Taking part in balance and muscle strength training called neuromuscular training can help reduce any risk. Part- taking in this type of training must be considered by all athletes but particularly those who are young. A serious ACL injury can have damaging long term effects of an individual’s sports performance.
Surgery is usually the only means of correcting an ACL injury and even after surgery there is no guarantee that the knee joint is to be the same. More alarmingly, particularly for those with a sporting career ahead of them, the lay off for an ACL injury is at least 12 months, sometimes longer, may return to their sport to find that their affected knee is weaker and as a consequence they can no longer compete at the same standard as they could prior to the injury.
As always all viewers of body2shape are invited to leave comments and encouraged to ask questions. If you have any questions you would like to ask about any of the injuries and mechanism of injury outlined in this article then please leave them in the comments box. Similarly, if you have any information you think may add depth and further context to this article then again please contact our team via the comments box.