Spring flings bring strains and sprains

April 23rd, 2019

It’s spring. Time to play ball – or tennis or soccer. Or maybe track and field is your thing. In any case, each sport comes with its own array of injuries

Dr. Ian Tullberg, pole  vaulting. Photo courtesy of Ian Tullberg.

What are the most common injuries associated with each one? Let’s take them one by one.

Baseball and softball

“We’re looking at several different types of injuries that come from throwing (the ball) – like elbow sprains or ‘softball elbow,’” said Dr. Ian Tullberg, medical director of urgent care for UCHealth Medical Group. “We also see a few other things, such as sprains and strains, mostly of ankles. That’s a big one. Also we see contusions and bruising from getting hit by a ball or a person.”

Soccer

“Knee and ankle injuries are the biggest ones, more ankles than anything. Every so often we see a head injury, like a concussion, but they’re not as common as sprains,” said Tullberg, who oversees 17 urgent care centers in Colorado.

Tennis

“You can get tennis elbow, thus the name. Or we see a lot of ankle sprains as well. Tennis elbow is an inflammation of the tendons in the elbow, caused by repetitive motion.” Because of the lateral way tennis players often have to move, “ankles also seem to be a problem. “

Track & Field

“Oh where do I start on this one?” said Tullberg. “It really depends on the sport.  There are certainly a lot of strains, especially large muscle strains, like hamstrings. We see that with runners. Some field events, like discus, shot put or pole vaulting, tend to cause back strains and such. They require a lot of torque.”

He speaks from experience – a pole vaulter since his teens, he’s had more than his share of injuries, he said.

What are the most serious injuries connected with these sports?

“Anything involving the brain, like concussions,” are cause for concern. And some ankle injuries “can end a career, or at least mean you’ll never play that sport again,” he added.  Occasionally, players experience fractures, but they’re not as common in these sports as in, say, skiing.

How can they be prevented?

“Well, the No. 1 prevention is not to play the sport, but I wouldn’t ever recommend that to anyone,” he said. “I mean, there’s danger in walking through a crosswalk.”

Proper protective gear is “high on the list” of things to do.  “And make sure protective gear fits properly. Wear it all the time, even at practice. Be vigilant. Watch what you’re doing or what your child is doing.”

But the biggest factor in protecting yourself from injury is being fit in the first place, he said.

“Get in shape before the season starts,’” he recommended. “Better yet, stay in shape year ‘round. Working out, running and doing exercise keep your body ready to play.“

Injuries are almost inevitable if you play a sport enough, but when is it time for an ice pack and an aspirin and when is it time to visit the urgent care center?

Unless you’re bleeding or have a broken bone, or a laceration that might need stitches, you’re probably OK with the former, he said.

“But that’s a tough call,” he added. “A good rule of thumb is, if you can’t walk or have problems walking, it would be a good idea to be seen” by a physician, he said. “Let a medical professional check you out. Yes, he may give you an ice pack and an aspirin, but at least you’ll know.”

On the other hand, “if you turned your ankle but still can finish the game, you probably don’t need to do anything,” but you can look it up online and see what is suggested, he said. Use a reputable site, including a medical school site, he added.

If a web site has lots of ads, steer clear of it, he suggested.

In any case, spring is here and so are those activities. His best advice?

“Be prepared.”

About the author

Linda DuVal is a freelance writer based in Colorado Springs who writes articles for UCHealth.