As doctors continually say: “It’s best to stay active, no matter the age.” Engaging in exercise or any kind of sports can put you right on the high end of the fitness barometer.
However, sports injuries are common among active older adults. Proper and careful execution should be practiced at all times. Sports injuries vary according to the physical condition of the person as well as the type of sport. Common injuries include muscle sprains and strains, tears of the ligaments (which hold joints together), tendon tears, dislocated joints, and fractured bones.
Reasons for Sports Injuries
The main reason for sports injuries among active older adults is that flexibility and reflexes decrease with age. Another reason for injury is when a person fails to make a gradual transition from a more stationary lifestyle to an active one.
Other factors that may contribute to sports injuries among seniors include:
- Poor training execution
- Improper equipment used
- Failure to perform warm-up and stretching exercises
- Lack of conditioning
Types of Sports Injuries
Sports injuries can be classified as acute or chronic. Acute injuries are characterized by severe and sudden pain in the affected area, swelling, extreme tenderness and weakness, visible dislocation or break, or inability to move your joint through its full range of motion.
On the other hand, chronic injuries are characterized by swelling. There is pain on the affected area during motion, and a dull ache is experienced while at rest.
Varying Injuries for Varying Sports
The common types of sports-related injuries depend on the sport. For instance, common tennis injuries affect the lower limbs (caused by pivoting, sprinting, pounding, and jarring) or the upper limbs (such as swift, strong, and repetitive arm movements). Other tennis injuries occur along the back, such as when your trunk is subjected to constant rotation, flexion, and extension.
Common injuries in swimming generally affect the rotator cuff. Many swimmers also complain about knee injuries, foot or ankle tendinitis, and elbow stress syndrome. Injuries related to golf usually affect the elbow, shoulders, and the back.
Areas of injury mainly depend on which major body parts are repetitively or excessively being used.
Some common sports injuries are:
A sprain occurs when a ligament is stretched or torn. A ligament is a band of connective tissues that connect two bones together. Sprains have varying degrees: ligaments minimally stretched to those that suffer from complete tear. Body areas that are highly prone to sprains include the wrists, ankles, and knees.
- Pain or tenderness on the affected area
- Inability to move a joint or limb
- Looseness of the joint
A strain occurs when a muscle or a tendon is pulled, twisted, or torn. A tendon is a thick, cord-like, fibrous tissue that attaches a muscle to a bone. Strains are usually a result of overstretching or when there is too much muscle contraction.
- Pain on the affected area
- Loss of strength
- Muscle spasm
- Swelling or bruising
- Pain when muscle is used or even during rest
- Inability to use the muscle
Knee injuries are very common and they can range from mild to severe. They are usually caused by jumping and landing improperly, failing to warm up prior to strenuous movement, running too hard or fast, twisting your knee past extension, or when there is a direct blow to the knee.
Mild to moderate knee injuries include:
- Runner’s knee (characterized by pain behind or around the kneecap)
- Iliotibial band syndrome (affects the outside of the knee)
- Tendinitis (characterized by mild swelling, stiffness, restricted motion, and pain or tenderness around areas such as wrist, elbow, heel, or shoulder)
*These injuries may be less severe but they could still be painful and function may be limited.
Severe knee injuries involve bruising or damage to the bones, cartilage or ligaments. Ligaments provide support to the knee. They include: anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), medial collateral ligament (MCL), lateral collateral ligament (LCL), and posterior cruciate ligament (PCL). Damage to knee ligaments may vary from partial rupture to a full tear.
- Popping sound at the time of injury
- Limited mobility
Also known as medial tibial stress syndrome (MTSS), shin splints refer to the pain affecting the large bone located in the front of the lower leg called the tibia or the shin bone. Shin splints are usually common in sports like tennis and basketball which involve speed running with sudden stops. Shin splints may also be caused by running on uneven surfaces or when running with inappropriate shoes that don’t fit properly or lack sufficient support.
- Pain in inner part of the lower leg
- Moderate swelling
- Numbness or weakness in the feet
- Tenderness or soreness in the inner part of the lower leg
Achilles Tendon Injuries
An achilles tendon injury may be in the form of rupture or tear affecting that tendon that connects your calf muscle to the bones of your heel. This is generally caused by tendinitis (a swollen or painful tendon). This injury is common in most well known sports. Achilles tendon injuries are common in older adults, particularly adults that have just started working out extensively. Performing stretching exercises prior to any vigorous activity can help to avoid these injuries.
- Pain in the back of the foot
A fracture refers to a break in the bone. There are two categories of fractures: acute fractures and stress fractures. Acute fractures are simple or compound. Simple acute fractures are characterized by a clean break and there is little damage to the surrounding tissue. Compound acute fractures are marked by a break wherein the bone pierces through the skin.
Stress fractures, on the contrary, are caused by the bones being subjected to repetitive impact such as gymnastics or running. Noticeable symptoms include swelling and tenderness.
Back pain is common among active older adults. Back pain has multiple categories: mechanical back pain, disc-related back pain, arthritis pain, and stress fracture.
- Muscle spasms
- Numbness, pain, and/or weakness in the legs if the nerve is also affected
Treatment for Sports Injuries
Within the first 48-72 hours following injury, the method called RICE (Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation) must be administered.
Rest – Ensure that the affected body part rests during the time there is any pain. If your leg is the affected area, use crutches or a cane to help support your body weight.
Ice – To reduce blood flow the the affected area, apply an ice pack immediately following the injury. This is done in order to reduce pain and inflammation in the affected part. Apply the ice for 10-30 minutes. Anything less or above this range can be less effective or may damage the skin, respectively. Note that ice should not be directly applied to the skin as it could cause ice burn. Wrap ice cubes in a towel or a plastic bag and apply it onto the injured area. You should repeat this process 4-5 times a day or as recommended by a doctor.
Compression – This technique helps reduce the swelling. Using a bandage, wrap it around the area. Make sure that the bandage is not too tight, but just comfortable enough so as not to restrict blood flow.
Elevation – This technique involves keeping your injured leg or arm elevated at a level higher than your heart in order to reduce swelling. Use a pillow in elevating your arm or leg when you are on the bed. When sitting down, put the affected leg against the wall or rest your arm or leg on a pile of cushions.
Moreover, be sure to keep the injury from being exposed to any amount of heat (hot baths, heat packs, saunas) to prevent increased blood flow. Drinking alcoholic beverages and massage therapy should also be avoided since these can aggravate the bleeding as well as the swelling of the affected part.
Other possible treatment options for sports injuries include:
- Medication – includes paracetamol, painkillers and topical application
- Physiotherapy -rehabilitation exercises
- Braces – for support, especially for knee ligament injuries
- Electro-stimulation – mild electrical currents stimulate the muscles to contract or help reduce swelling
- Heat therapy – use hot compresses, heating pads, or heat lamps to increase blood flow. This will assist in cell debris removal from the damaged tissues as well as in transporting nutrients essential for healing to the injured site. Heat therapy must NOT be done within 48 hours following an injury.
- Ultrasound – using high-frequency sound waves applied directly to the injured spot in order to stimulate blood flow necessary for healing.
- Massage – Gently massaging the area helps increase the blood flow in the affected region. Refrain from doing this within 48 hours after an injury.
Lastly, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Here are some tips you need to consider to help prevent those unwanted injuries:
- Always warm up and stretch prior to any vigorous physical activity. Cool down exercises are just as important.
- Do not overuse your muscles. In some sports, overusing a muscle is inevitable. If such is the case, be sure to use proper body form during execution.
- Do not abruptly shift from lower to higher level of physical activity. It should be increased gradually.
- To prevent lower limb injuries, wear shoes that fit and provide stability, heel support, and shock absorption.
- Listen to your body. Do not push yourself so hard that your body can no longer handle the stress. Know when to take a rest.
The good news is that many sports injuries are minor and highly treatable. However, immediate treatment and management of an injury should never be neglected.
Have you experienced any of these sports injuries? If so, what best method of treatment have you applied? Let us know in the comment section below!