Sprains and strains are common in sports. Professional athletes experience them and so do amateur athletes and youth sports players. But, with the right preparation, sprains and strains can be prevented.
Steven M. Erickson, MD, medical director for Banner Sports Medicine and Concussion Specialists, has several recommendations to reduce the likelihood you will experience a strain or sprain whether you are a serious athlete or a weekend warrior.
“Athletes should engage in an exercise program before the season to lessen the likelihood of sprains and strains,” explained Dr. Erickson. “Exercises that focus on balance and stretching, along with proper conditioning, can help prevent injury.” Using properly fitting protective equipment, for example ankle braces, can also reduce your risk for injury.
Dr. Erickson also recommends avoiding sports specialization. Athletes who play one sport year-round are more likely to experience overuse injuries. It is much better for middle school and high school athletes to play multiple sports to protect their growing bones, muscles and tendons. Participating in multiple sports develops overall athleticism and reduces injuries.
“If a sprain does occur, it’s important to treat it appropriately to avoid reinjury,” said Dr. Erickson. “Strengthening muscles around the joint and wearing a brace can prevent the injury from occurring again.”
All sprains are not the same. You could experience a minor sprain that heals quickly or a more serious tear of a muscle or tendon that could cause disability without treatment. Because it’s not always easy to know if your sprain is something serious, you should see a specialist if pain lasts more than a few days.
The most effective first treatment for strains and sprains is RICE: Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation. If this RICE treatment does not result in complete resolution within a few days, see a medical professional.
“If you can’t walk or play your sport without significant pain or discomfort, you shouldn’t participate until you see a doctor,” said Dr. Erickson. “Doing so can cause additional injury to the joint or a new injury from trying to protect the sprain.” Other signs of a serious injury are immediate swelling, limping and the inability to bear weight.
Treatment by a sports medicine provider, physical therapist or athletic trainer will give you the best chance at a complete recovery. Sports medicine specialists understand injuries caused by sports and the treatments needed for a full recovery. They can also counsel you about how and when to get back in the game to protect yourself from further injury.