Whether you take part in regular exercise or play intramural or competitive sports, athletic-related injuries can be common if proper care is not taken, says Dr. Kwame A. Williams, a podiatric physician at Ankle & Foot Care Centers.
Dr. Williams specializes in sports medicine and often treats patients for injuries related to overuse, lack of stretching or improper support, which he says can be avoided with proper care.
There are two major areas of injuries, which often occur simultaneously: soft-tissue injuries and bone injuries.
Soft Tissue Injuries
Injuries of the muscles, tendons and ligaments can occur due to micro-trauma, which is a result of overuse, or from sudden impact, twists or falls, known as macro-trauma.
Micro-trauma soft tissue injuries. Often times, when individuals exercise they don’t allow for enough recovery time in between workouts, causing tightness, tenderness and pain.
“Also referred to as repetitive micro-trauma, overuse injuries are common in high school and college athletes who are likely to over-train,” said Dr. Williams. “We also see this a lot at the start of conditioning or training, as a result of rushing into the movements and increasing the intensity too rapidly.”
Micro-trauma can cause tears or sprains in the connective tissues, as well as over-stretch the tendons, often resulting in swelling and discomfort.
Dr. Williams often treats athletes with plantar fasciitis and/or Achilles tendonitis, which is the swelling of tissues and tendons.
Macro-trauma soft tissue injuries. Sprains and strains are common macro-trauma injuries, caused by sudden impact.
Ankles and knees take on extreme pressure during sports and can result in differing degrees of tears to the ligaments (sprains) or injuries to the muscles and tendons (strains).
“Contact sports put athletes at risk for high-impact injuries,” said Dr. Williams. “But so do sports involving sudden starts and stops, such as track, cross-country or basketball” said Dr. Williams.
Similar to soft tissue injuries, bone injuries can also result from overuse and pressure, or from high impact trauma.
Bone injuries occur in every sport, not just contact sports, from repetitive trauma or sudden impact.
Micro-trauma bone injuries. Two of the most common lower-extremity bone injuries caused by overuse are stress reactions and stress fractures.
Stress reactions occur prior to a stress fracture, when the bone structure breaks down and becomes weaker.
Stress fractures occur when small cracks begin to form in the bone, and can result from over-use or not wearing proper shoes.
“Stress fractures are common in runners, who are often increasing their mileage each week, or are switching from running trails to pavement to grass,” said Dr. Williams.
Macro-trauma bone injuries. Similar to high impact trauma on soft tissue, bone injuries occur as a result of a fall, twist or some form of contact.
They also can eventually turn into a macro-trauma injury if not treated early. Broken bones are often a result of hairline fractures left untreated.
Fortunately, there are several ways to prevent and/or treat soft-tissue and bone injuries.
Tips for Prevention/Treatment
- Proper shoe wear: Athletes should wear supportive shoes that are designed specifically for the sport. Shoes are built to take on different levels of impact and provide support and cushion in different spots. When evaluating shoes for impact sports, the best are wide, stabilized straight-lasted shoes, which are heavier and provide more support under the arch.
- Stretch, warm up, vary exercises: Overuse injuries are often a result of not stretching enough before and after exercising. Athletes should warm up their calves and hamstrings prior to exertion and increase their heartbeats prior to a practice or game, says Dr. Williams. He also encourages athletes to vary their workout routines, so the body is not taking the same impact over and over again.
- Custom orthotics: Custom orthotics are inserts that are designed to fit the shape of the foot and provide extra support. They can be worn in athletic shoes and everyday footwear.
- Compression stockings: The gentle squeeze of compression stockings allows blood to flow up your legs and reduces swelling. “Compression stockings are the “best anti-inflammatory in the world,” says Dr. Williams.
These simple strategies can prevent a lot of injuries caused by stress, pressure and the pulling and pushing of the soft tissues and bones.
“If you feel any sort of pain or discomfort, allow your body to rest,” says Dr. Williams. “Listen to your body and if the pain persists, get checked out by your podiatric physician.”