Health News
Health News
March 1, 2022
Sports Medicine: Get Back in the Game

Have you ever wondered what a sports medicine doctor does?  Put simply, they help athletes recover from injuries and get back on the field of play.  But you don’t have to be a player for the Dallas Cowboys or Texas Rangers to need a sports medicine doctor.  Amateur athletes, including children who play sports, may also need to see a sports medicine specialist at some point.

Sports medicine doctors are well-trained and educated on the human musculoskeletal system.  Some are also orthopedic surgeons, but the field of sports medicine generally focuses on the non-surgical treatment of musculoskeletal injuries.  In fact, roughly 90% of sports injuries do not require surgical treatment.  Sports medicine doctors can also work with you on strategies to reduce the risk of injuries in the first place. 

Sports medicine doctors will tell you that many injuries they see could have been prevented – that’s true of injuries sustained on the field or court, as well as injuries not related to sports, like falling off a ladder.  Proper precautions are the key to reducing the risk of injuries.  In sports, that means training properly, using the right equipment and not attempting maneuvers that are beyond your capability or training. 

Injuries can happen in any sport and in any setting, from Little League to the major leagues.  Many preventable sports-related injuries involve “weekend warriors” who may be trying to relive a little too much of their glory days in high school or college.  Let’s take a look at some of the most common injuries that sports medicine doctors see – and ways you can reduce your risk of experiencing them. 

Shoulder Injuries

Shoulder injuries often result from activities which involve repetitive and frequent overhead motion: swimming, tennis, pitching and weightlifting all fall in this category.  But just as with other common sports injuries, non-athletic tasks such as lifting boxes up into the attic, painting a ceiling or wall or trimming hedges can cause strain and injury to the shoulder.

One of the most common types of shoulder injury is to the rotator cuff, a group of muscles and tendons that holds the bones of the shoulder together.  The rotator cuff is the part of the shoulder that enables us to lift our arms overhead. 

Pain or stiffness in the shoulder or an inability to perform typical daily activities due to shoulder discomfort, are reasons to see a sports medicine or orthopedic specialist. 

Sometimes, shoulder injuries can heal through rest, restricting movement of the shoulder and strengthening exercises.  Other times, an injury may necessitate injections or surgery. 

Knee Injuries

The knee is the largest joint in the body and is one of the most commonly injured, as well.  Sometimes these injuries can be resolved by rest and restricted movement; others require surgery. 

A sprain of the Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) is one of the more common knee injuries and can occur when a person stops or changes direction suddenly, slows down when running or lands the wrong way after a jump.  That’s why we often hear about ACL injuries in sports such as football, basketball and soccer. 

The ACL is found on the inside of the knee and together with the Posterior Cruciate Ligament, controls the back-and-forth motion of the knee.  An ACL injury is a sprain, of which there are three categories:

  • Grade 1 sprain, in which the ligament is stretched but not torn
  • Grade 2 sprain, in which the ligament is partially torn
  • Grade 3 sprain, in which the ligament is completely torn in two

An ACL tear is an injury that will require surgery to completely repair it.  However, if the sprain is not too severe and the person is elderly and not very active, a non-surgical solution of restricting activity, along with physical therapy, may be an option.  

In most cases, a torn ACL cannot simply be stitched back together.  The surgeon must replace the damaged ligament with a graft – usually part of a tendon from another part of the body – that serves as the infrastructure for the ligament to regrow on.  Because the ligament must be given time to completely regrow, recovery from ACL surgery generally takes six months. 

The knee also has ligaments that run on the outside of the knee joint, known as collateral ligaments.  These ligaments control the sideways motion of the knee and help to brace it.  The Medial Collateral Ligament (MCL) can be torn when the knee is pushed sideways.  Unlike the ACL, however, an MCL sprain rarely requires surgery and can be healed through a brace that restricts movement, as well as physical therapy.  

Meniscus tears are another common knee injury.  The meniscus refers to the cartilage in the knee between the thighbone and shin bone.  Meniscus tears are a common sports injury and can sometimes occur at the same time as an ACL injury.  Absent an ACL injury, a meniscus tear is characterized by pain, stiffness and swelling that comes on over a period of a few days.  Depending upon the severity and location of the tear, sometimes a meniscus injury does not require surgery and can be treated through a combination of rest, ice packs, a compression bandage and elevation of the leg. 

Ankle Sprains

Ankle sprains are one of the most common injuries affecting athletes and non-athletes alike. According to the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons, 25,000 people a day suffer an ankle sprain.  A sprain occurs when the ligaments in the ankle are stretched beyond their capability.  As with the ligaments in the knee, some sprains are so severe they result in the tearing of the ligament.

Ankle sprains take place when the foot rolls or twists in an abnormal way – this can happen in several different sports, but also in daily activities such as walking down a flight of stairs or stepping off of a curb. 

The keys to reducing risk of an ankle sprain is maintaining good balance control, avoiding slick surfaces, wearing shoes that provide good support and warming up before exercising.

Tennis Elbow

One of the most common elbow ailments is known as tennis elbow, a condition that results from overuse of the elbow joint.  As the name suggests, sports such as tennis and racquetball can lead to the onset of tennis elbow, but there are also a number of non-sports activities and professions that have been associated with the injury.  In fact, most cases of tennis elbow have nothing to do with sports and are caused by everyday activities.  People whose jobs require them to make frequent and repeated use of the forearm, such as plumbers, cooks, painters and carpenters have all been known to get tennis elbow. 

Tennis elbow occurs when muscles in the forearm become weakened due to overuse, resulting in instability in the arm and leading to small tears in the tendon that connects the forearm muscles.  Pain, a burning sensation in the elbow and inability to grip objects are the resulting symptoms.

Most tennis elbow cases can be treated with rest, physical therapy and other non-surgical treatments.

Shin Splints

If you experience pain around your shin bone during or after running, you may have shin splints. This is a common condition that can affect runners, as well as dancers.  A shin splint occurs when there is inflammation of the muscles, tendons and bone tissue near the shin bone (the tibia). When the legs are overworked because of repetitive motion, shin splints may develop.  The resulting pain may be sharp or dull and throbbing.

Shin splints often occur when the body is introduced to new exercise it is not accustomed to, like going for a run for the first time in a few years. 

Treatment for shin splints include rest, taking ibuprofen or aspirin and ice packs.  Proper stretching of the lower legs before exercise can help reduce the likelihood of experiencing shin splints. 

Strained Muscles

Strained or pulled muscles, especially in the legs, are common sports injuries.  

The hamstring is the group of three muscles found in the back of the thigh.  A pulled hamstring is associated with several sports, in addition to running and dancing. A hamstring pull is often characterized by a sudden pain in the thigh, followed by swelling and weakness in the muscle.  Generally, hamstring injuries can be treated through rest, ice packs and use of crutches in order to keep weight off of the injured leg. 

A pulled groin muscle—the muscle on the inside of the thigh – is another common injury.  This is an injury often associated with baseball, football, soccer and hockey, as it can result from pushing off in a sideways motion.  As with the hamstring, the best remedy is usually rest and ice packs.  

Protect Yourself from Injury – on and off the Field

Sports injuries do not have to be inevitable.  There are several steps you can take to reduce your risk when exercising or competing.  People tend to injure themselves when they rush into an exercise program or sport without proper planning and pacing. Taking proper precautions will significantly reduce risk of injury, including:

  • Proper form & technique: Whether you are lifting weights, going for a jog, playing golf or participating in any other type of sport, proper technique and form helps guard against injuries. 
  • Take it slow: Avoid over-exerting yourself, both in the length of time you work out and in the amount of effort you give.  Playing tennis too long can cause unhealthy strain on your elbow.  Lifting a weight that is too heavy can compromise your form, leading to injury.  Gradually increase the amount of time you exercise and the exertion level. 
  • Cross-train: Don’t focus on just one sport or activity. Mix up your routine by engaging in different types of activity, such as incorporating jogging with your weight-lifting routine.  This helps develop more muscles in the body and makes you stronger and fitter overall.
  • Rest & recover: One of the most common causes of injury is that people do not allow for sufficient recovery time.  Overuse of the same muscles without adequate rests leads to injury. 

Following these precautions can help reduce your chances of injury to your joints and muscles.  And if you do find yourself experiencing pain or soreness in your joints or muscles, get in touch with one of the sports medicine doctors and orthopedic specialists at Privia Medical Group North Texas – they will work to get you back in the game!

This article contains material sourced from:

American Medical Society for Sports Medicine

The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

The Mayo Clinic

The National Institutes of Health