‘It will all end in tears.’ How many of us heard our mothers issue that warning when we were playing exuberantly? And how many of us took any notice? We may think we are older and wiser now, but some things don’t change and when we are completely absorbed in an activity, it is easy for thoughts of safety to get pushed to the back of our minds. That way lies injury, and that is why sports trainers always have to remind competitors not to take stupid risks. Avoiding injury in sports is the most important way to keep enjoying it for longer.
What Causes Injuries?
There are three main causes of injury in sports:
- Collisions. These happen quite often in contact sports, or in any sport which involves traveling at speed, like cycling or downhill skiing.
- Failure of equipment, especially safety equipment. Gymnastics is an example of a sport which absolutely depends on reliable equipment. It should be the easiest cause of injury to reduce through a strict regime of inspection and replacement.
- Excessive stresses and strains placed on the body. All sports involve pushing the body to its limits, both in practice and in competition. Inevitably there are times when the limits are exceeded and this can cause temporary or permanent damage to joints, ligaments, tendons, and muscles.
Avoiding Collision Injuries and Equipment Failure
Where there is an inherent risk of crashing into other players or stationary objects, it is vital that all equipment is maintained well and inspected regularly. For instance, once a helmet has been involved in a serious impact, it should be replaced.
The other important thing is to train with safety in mind, developing speed and power gradually. This happens naturally in speed sports but is easily overlooked in contact sports, where enthusiasm can take over and larger participants can use their size irresponsibly.
Recognizing Strains and Stresses
It is tempting to neglect the early signs of putting too much demand on your body but the sooner the signs are recognized, the sooner serious trouble can be avoided. Almost any physical change is worth reporting and investigating and may indicate that a time of rest is needed. Symptoms might include:
- Difficulty in performing a movement.
- Pain on weight bearing.
- Shortness of breath.
- Tingling sensations or loss of feeling in fingers or toes.
- Feeling dizzy or experiencing headaches.
- Loss of co-ordination.
- Blisters or inflammation.
If any of these occur, it is worth considering the possibility that they may have been caused by your sport. It is important not to continue with the sport until they have resolved. If they persist, you should see your doctor or a specialist in Sports Medicine.
Prevention is better than cure, so some simple precautions can minimize the risk of injury.
- Build up gradually. You need to keep extending your limits, but never by too much at any one time. Strengthening your muscles and tendons happens slowly.
- Warm up and stretch your muscles before activity and follow a proper cool-down routine afterwards.
- Get proper rest. The body responds to the extra demands by building up the tissues, but this happens mostly when it is at rest after the activity. So take breaks during the session, and have a full day off each week. This also prevents you getting overtired, which can be a cause of accidents.
- Know the safety rules of your sport and observe them properly. Know all about the right equipment and use it strictly according to the training you have received.
- Stop if you feel pain during any activity.
- Keep well hydrated during exercise.
- Balance your main sport with other activities which use a different combination of muscles and movements.
It is worth noting that sport can also result in emotional injury, especially among children. It is important for coaches to be balanced in their attitude to winning and not to put undue pressure on the weaker members of the team—they should be praised for the effort they put in, irrespective of the result.
Play Hard, Live Well
The point of being involved in a sport is to enhance life and to get the most from it, both physically and mentally. Where the sport is resulting in harm, it is not really achieving what it should. To avoid injury and lasting damage is a priority, whatever the sport that is chosen.
Bailey Walker works as a sports therapist and, when not playing sports himself (he is a keen golfer and tennis player), enjoys writing and reading about it.