A great deal of research on sports- and recreation-related injuries is concentrated on specific populations, activities and types of injuries, according to a 2016 National Health Interview Survey (NHIS) report. However, there are some figures available that give a picture of how common sports injuries are.
There were about 8.6 million average sports- and recreation-related injury episodes per year for people 5 and older, based on NHIS data from 2011 to 2014. The age-adjusted rate of injury episodes was 34.1 per 1,000 people. Leading activities for injury were general exercise (16.3 percent), basketball (9.9), football (8.3), pedal cycling (7.2), soccer (6.3), recreational sports such as tennis, golf and bowling (6.0), and gymnastics/cheerleading (5.5).
The average annual number of injuries for college athletes across 25 championship sports was 6.0 per 1,000 athlete-exposures, according to NCAA Injury Surveillance Program data from five academic years. Researchers examined data from more than 478,000 student-athletes, examining how many injuries occurred for each exposure in a competition or practice. The top sports for each gender for injuries were men’s wrestling (13.1 injuries per 1,000 athlete-exposures) and women’s gymnastics (10.4 injuries per 1,000 athlete-exposures).
What are the common sports injuries suffered by recreational, collegiate and professional athletes? The following sections explore four of the most common sports injuries — and the information follows a supplementary infographic.
4 Common Sports Injuries
1. Ankle Sprain
Ligaments that support the ankle can stretch beyond their limits, resulting in an ankle sprain. It may be a small tear in the fiber that comprises the ligament, or the tear may be completely through the ligament.
An ankle sprain is a common sports injury in basketball, tennis, football, soccer and trail running, according to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS), due to footwork that these activities require. A quick cut, or the rolling or twisting of the foot, can result in a tear. Or someone else may step on the foot while an athlete is running — especially common in basketball — which causes the foot to twist or roll to the side.
In many cases, surgery is not required. Treatment can involve crutches, walking boots or casts. Mild sprains may only need over-the-counter medications such as ibuprofen and the RICE protocol — rest, ice, compression and elevate. Recovery typically ranges from two to 12 weeks.
A sports concussion has no clear definition, and it is uncertain whether any damage to the brain occurs from a concussion, the AAOS notes. Imaging tests in concussion tests often do not detect brain damage such as bruising or bleeding.
Concussions temporarily impair how the brain functions and processes information. For instance, a concussion can cause a patient to struggle with speech, memory and balance. Other symptoms include headache, drowsiness, irritability, nausea and vomiting, depression and changes in sleep patterns. Most people recover from concussions within seven to 10 days. However, once athletes have sustained a concussion, the risk for additional concussions rises, and repeat concussions have long-term consequences.
Concussions can occur in any sport or recreational activity, although sports such as football, ice hockey and soccer have higher rates of concussion. Football is especially noteworthy, as the risks of repeated concussions in the NFL have sparked a great deal of controversy. Research is ongoing as to the safety of football at all levels of competition, due to the frequency of concussions in the sport.
3. ACL Tear
Injuries to the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) are particularly common knee injuries. The ACL runs diagonally in the middle of the knee, preventing the tibia from sliding out in front of the femur. It also provides rotational stability to the knee.
An ACL tear may be a partial or complete tear of the ligament. In a grade 2 sprain, the ligament stretches to the point where it becomes loose; this is a partial tear of the ligament. In a grade 3 sprain, a complete tear occurs. The ligament has been split into two pieces and the knee joint is unstable.
The AAOS lists several ways that can lead to an ACL injury: changing direction rapidly, stopping suddenly, slowing down while running, landing from a jump incorrectly and direct contact or collision, such as a football tackle. ACL tears are more common in sports like football, soccer and basketball.
Most ACL tears require surgery. The ligament must be reconstructed, which occurs through a tissue graft that acts as scaffolding for a new ligament to grow on. Followed by rigorous physical therapy to regain movement and strength, recovery can take a total of six to 12 months.
4. UCL Tear
The ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) is the most commonly injured ligament for throwing athletes. Baseball pitchers are often treated for injuries to the PCL; other athletes experiencing the same injury include javelin throwers as well as ice hockey, football, racquet sports and water polo players, according to Houston Methodist.
Through repetitive throwing motions, the UCL can become stretched, frayed or torn. Months and years of throwing hard can initiate a process of microtears, degeneration and finally, rupture of the ligament. The weakened tendon can rupture completely, causing a “pop” sound and immediate pain. While the athlete may report that the injury occurred during a single throw, it is often that the ligament finally became weak enough to rupture.
Depending on the severity of the tear, surgery may be needed. Surgeons may be able to debride tissue fragments or damaged tissue, which refers to cleaning the area by removing dead or damaged tissue, along with bone spurs and calcium build-up. Otherwise, the tissue must be repaired (injured due to a fall on outstretched arm) or reconstructed (injured due to constant overuse). Reconstruction requires the UCL to be replaced with a tendon graft harvested from somewhere else in the body.
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