Sports provide healthful benefits. Don't let injuries stop you.
Ah, Spring. It's in the air, and you know what that means — spring cleaning, yard work, and playing sports. While spring cleaning and yard work have their own set of hazards, playing sports carries the potential for serious injuries, ranging from minor sprains all the way up to major breaks. Contact sports are particularly dangerous because of the potential for crippling, or fatal, injuries. This isn't to say you shouldn't play sports — sports provide many healthful benefits, as well as training for social skills. You need to minimize your chances for injury when you play the sport of your choice. Even something as tame as golf can lead to torn muscles, dislocated shoulders, and injured joints. Here are seven ways you can avoid being a casualty:
1. Get the Proper Shoes
Whatever sport you play, even if it's walking around your neighborhood, you need the proper equipment. For all sports, this means getting the proper footwear. Your feet carry you throughout life, and we take them for granted until they start to hurt. Putting the stress of a sports activity on your feet without proper shoes is guaranteed to create problems, and not just for your feet. Any sport involving grass means cleats. If your shoes have long cleats, this gives you a higher chance of injuring your knees and ankles. Long cleats grip more firmly, which would seem to be a good thing, until you need to make a sharp turn. Your leg may turn and your cleats may stay exactly where they were. Not a good thing for your knees and ankles. Shorter cleats increase your chance of slipping, but they also increase your mobility when sharp movements are called for. Any sport involving running and jumping, such as jogging, or basketball, your feet need proper support. Any sport involving running and short stops or turns, such as tennis, your feet and ankles need proper support. Notice a trend here? Support your feet, whatever sport you play, and they'll support you.
2. Get Into Condition
Every sport demands sharp reflexes; some demand great strength; some demand both strength and flexibility. Your body is capable of all of these things, but it needs to be conditioned before you start a season's worth of sports. Weight-training, stretching, and running are the three things you'll need to look into to be properly prepared for your sport. Playing a sport out of condition means unexpected stress on your cardiovascular system; you'll get in shape after playing for a while, but it would be much better for your body if you were ready before you started.
3. Maintain Your Equipment
Many sports, such as rock climbing, tennis, baseball, or hockey require equipment to play. Playing with worn gear is a preamble to an accident. Worn-out bats break when you hit balls, and the impact, not to mention the shards, can pose a hazard. Worn-out gloves mean hard-hit balls are essentially hitting your hand, and this causes numbness at best and fractures or deep bruising at worst. Do you really want to risk your life on an old rope or piton? Even worn-out strings on an ice skate can lead to a broken ankle which can be treated. Keep your gear in shape.
4. Brace Yourself
In any fast-paced sport, your knees are going to take a beating. Short stops, quick turns, jumps, and getting hit are all part of playing; you need to defend your joints as best you can. The knee is both the largest and most vulnerable joint in your body, and it takes the brunt of the action. Wearing a supportive brace while you play makes good sense. The four ligaments surrounding your knee stabilize the joint as you move. Supporting it while you play a sport can help prevent the ligaments from tearing under most circumstances, and this is definitely a good thing.
5. Get Some Sleep
We don't tend to think about sleep as a preventative measure, but being tired when you play a sport is a recipe for disaster. When you're tired, both your mental and physical reflexes slow down. You get clumsy, and your alertness level drops. Not being at your best when you play means the chances for an accident are much greater, so nip this one in the bud and get the proper amount of sleep you require before participating.
6. Fuel Yourself
Your body is comparable to a car engine. Both run on fuel, and you know what happens when you put bad gasoline into your car — it runs rough, it knocks, it backfires; the same thing happens to you when you don't eat properly. Playing an active sport requires you ingest enough protein for your body to repair itself from the effects. You need energy, so getting the proper balance of fats and carbohydrates eating is also important. Eating junk food and going out to play full-contact football is not a bright idea.
7. Keep an Even Keel
Nothing you do is helped when you do it angry or stressed out. You put your body through enough stress and strain without adding the damage from a constantly-evoked stress-immune-inflammatory response. We evolved under extremely stressful, hazardous conditions, and our bodies needed the 'Fight or Flight' response to kick in, to literally save our lives. We don't live in a physically stressful environment, at least not like the one we evolved in, but our bodies are still programmed to give us the fight or flight response. This causes significant damage over time, and its damage we need to prevent. Learning to manage stress in all aspects of your life will also help you preventing your joints from an injury when you play sports. Angry players do stupid things, and angry players get hurt. Keep your cool, and stay out of the emergency room.
These are not the only ways to avoid injuring yourself when you play sports, but they are the easiest ones you can implement. So implement them, and enjoy your active life, injury-free.
Kevin D. Plancher, MD, orthopedic surgeon; sports, associate clinical professor in orthopedics, Albert Einstein College of Medicine, New York.
Gerald Varlotta, DO, director of sports rehabilitation medicine, New York University Hospital for Joint Diseases and the Rusk Institute of Rehabilitation Medicine at NYU.
Alex Schroeder, certified personal trainer, Form and Fitness Rehabilitation and Fitness Center, Milwaukee.