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How to Avoid Sports Injuries

Sports injuries happen when you exercise or play sports. Although not every sports injury can be prevented, the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS) says that injury rates could be reduced if all athletes—professionals and amateurs—followed essential safety, conditioning, and preventive strategies.

Most people who experience sports injuries have one or both of these in common:

  • A history of injury. Previous injuries often develop into chronic problems if they’re not properly and thoroughly rehabilitated.

  • No rest days. Playing or training hard every day taxes your body. Rest days reduce injury rates because they give muscles and connective tissues time to repair themselves between training sessions, the NIAMS says.

Reducing your risk

The following strategies can help reduce your injury risk:

  • Get in shape before playing a sport. Don’t expect the sport to get you in shape. Instead, follow a regular conditioning program designed for your sport.

  • Don’t play or exercise when you’re fatigued or in pain. Pay attention to your body, and don’t push yourself unnecessarily.

  • Always warm up before you play or exercise. Take a light jog for five to 10 minutes, then go through some of the movements you do when playing. Stretch specific muscles that tend to be tight and that you’ll use in the activity. A proper warm-up can help prevent injury and improve your level of play.

  • Don’t do too much too soon. Gradually increase the level and amount of time you exercise.

  • Wear the right shoes for your sport. Make sure they fit properly, are stable, and absorb shock. 

  • Learn proper form. This can reduce your risk for overuse injuries in sports such as tennis and golf.

  • Always use proper safety gear. This includes helmets, goggles, and mouth guards. Helmets, the most common safety gear, protect you when you’re playing team sports, as well as when you are biking, skateboarding, and in-line skating.

When to seek help

Never try to “work through” the pain of a sports injury. Stop playing or exercising when you feel pain. Some injuries should be seen by a doctor right away. Others you can treat yourself.

These are times when you should see a doctor:

  • The injury causes severe pain, swelling or numbness.

  • You can’t put weight on the area.

  • An old injury hurts or aches.

  • An old injury swells.

  • The joint doesn’t feel normal or feels unstable.

If you don’t have any of these signs, it may be safe to treat the injury at home with RICE (Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation) for at least 48 hours.