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Sports Injuries

Preventing Injuries

Diversify your training.  Repetitive injuries such as sprains, strains, and stress fractures can result from repeat performance of a specific task. A sprain is an injury (over-stretching or tearing) to a ligament, the band of tissue that connects two or more bones at a joint and prevents excessive movement of the joint. A strain is an injury to either a muscle or a tendon, the tough, fibrous cord of tissue that connects muscle to bone. Stress fractures (where the ligament pulls off small pieces of bone) and tendonitis (inflammation of a tendon) occur from overuse of muscles and tendons. While they may not show up on x-rays, they do cause pain and discomfort.

When you vary your workouts you give your body time to repair and strengthen stressed areas. Also, when working out, focus on the quality of the exercises, not on the number of exercises. Overuse is the cause of most sports injuries. Avoid terrible “too’s”: too much, too soon, too often, too fast, and too little attention paid to pain.

Pain affects training and athletic performance. But pain is also an important sign that must be paid attention to. It gives you feedback on how your body is currently working and warns you that things are not going well. Pain can cause you to alter your stride and result in other injuries. The biomechanical changes that you make as a result of pain can cause more pain, stress fracture, strains, and other injuries far away from the site of the original problem. When something hurts, pay attention. Find out why it is hurting and what you should do to make the pain stop so you can safely continue your sport. To do otherwise is to risk serious injury and a long time interruption of your sports activity.

Give your body a chance to acclimate before workouts. Allow two to three hours of awake time prior to competition. Not only does this allow you to wake up, it also gives you time to limber up so that you will be less likely to be injured. Regular stretching may also help reduce injuries. 

Make sure that you eat a healthy diet. Avoid fad diets and unbalanced approaches to weight loss. Be certain to take in an adequate amount of calcium and that your vitamin requirements are met. 


Proper Equipment and Gear for Organized Sports

      Football is the leading cause of injuries, especially in boys, in organized sports.

  • Common injuries and locations: Bruises, sprains, strains, pulled muscles, soft tissue tears such as ligaments, broken bones, internal injuries (bruised or damaged organs), back injuries, sunburn. Knees and ankles are the most common injury sites. 
  • Safest playing with: Helmet; mouth guard; shoulder pads; athletic supporters for males; chest/rib pads; forearm, elbow, and thigh pads; shin guards; proper shoes; sunscreen; water. 
  • Prevention: Proper use of safety equipment, warm-up exercises, proper coaching and conditioning.

      Basketball has the highest rate of knee injuries among girls.

  • Common injuries and locations: Sprains, strains, bruises, fractures, scrapes, dislocation, cuts, dental injuries. Ankles, knees (injury rates are higher in girls, especially for the anterior cruciate ligament, the wide ligament that limits rotation and forward movement of the shin bone), shoulder (rotator cuff strains and tears, where tendons at the end of muscles attach to the upper arm and shoulder bones). 
  • Safest playing with: Eye protection, elbow and kneepads, mouth guard, athletic supporters for males, proper shoes, and water. If playing outdoors, add a hat and sunscreen.  
  • Prevention: Strength training (particularly knees and shoulders), aerobics (exercises that develop the strength and endurance of heart and lungs), warm-up exercises, proper coaching, and use of safety equipment.


  • Common injuries: Bruises, cuts and scrapes, headaches, sunburn.  
  • Safest playing with: Shin guards, athletic supporters for males, cleats, sunscreen, water.  
  • Prevention: Aerobic conditioning and warm-ups, and proper training in “heading” the ball. (“Heading” is using the head to strike or make a play with the ball.)

    Baseball and Softball  

  • Common injuries: Soft tissue strains, impact injuries that include fractures due to sliding and being hit by a ball, sunburn.  
  • Safest playing with: Batting helmet, shin guards, elbow guards, athletic supporters for males, mouth guard, sunscreen, cleats, hat, breakaway bases. 
  • Prevention: Proper conditioning and warm-ups.


  • Common injuries: Sprains and strains of soft tissues. 
  • Safest playing with: Athletic supporters for males, safety harness, joint supports (such as neoprene wraps), water.  
  • Prevention: Proper conditioning and warm-ups.

    Track and Field 

  • Competing at running, walking, jumping, throwing, or pushing events. 
  • Common injuries: Strains, sprains, scrapes from falls.  
  • Safest playing with: Proper shoes, athletic supporters for males, sunscreen, water. 
  • Prevention: Proper conditioning and coaching. 


Temperature is Important.  


Be aware of extreme temperatures that can impact on your performance and lead to injuries.  Cold weather can lead to an increased risk of tendon injuries. Layering you clothing will go a long ways to helping your body stay warm.  Windchill is important to keep in mind when exercising in the cold. Moving sports such as roller blading, ice skating, skiing and even running can contribute to a heightened wind chill factor.  Frostbite results from an exposure to cold over time. The colder it is or the lower the wind chill factor the quicker frostbite will occur. Freezing begins in the tissues when the deep temperature reaches 10 degrees celsius. Tissues that are frozen below minus five degrees are not likely to survive rewarming. Humidity and wind chill both increase the adverse effect of the cold.

Be Aware of the Effects of Dehydration during Summer 

When working out in the heat, special care should be taken to rest frequently and keeping hydrated by drinking lots of water. Drink water throughout the day, not just when training or competing. Increased respiration and perspiration increase the amount of water needed. If you are conducting a strenuous workout, you may consume approximately one half of your body weight in ounces of water, i.e., a 120 pound individual may need up to 60 ounces of water per day.

  • Dehydration can affect an athlete’s performance in less than an hour of exercise, sooner if the athlete begins the session dehydrated.
  • Dehydration of just 1% – 2% of body weight (only 1.5 – 3 lbs. for a 150 lb. athlete) can affect an athlete’s performance.
  • Dehydration of greater than 3% of body weight increases an athlete’s risk of heat illness–heat cramps, heat exhaustion, or heat stroke.

Warning signs of Dehydration:  Look out for the warning signs of dehydration and heat exhaustion during workouts in hot weather:

Early Signs of Dehydration: fatigue, loss of appetite, flushed skin, heat intolerance, irritability, headaches, dizziness, lightheadedness, dark urine with a strong odor

Severe Signs of Dehydration:  difficulty swallowing, stumbling and clumsiness, numb or shriveled skin, cramps, nausea, delirium, sunken eyes and dim vision, painful urination, muscle spasms
Hydration Strategy:  Proper hydration is critical, especially in hot weather, to keep athletes safe and performance up. Remember that thirst is not an accurate measure of the body’s need for fluid.  By the time athletes feel thirsty it is too late; they have already lost needed fluids and electrolytes and may be dehydrated. Pre-hydrate before a long workout by drinking at least 1-2 glasses of water. Sports drinks that provide energy and replace electrolytes without slowing fluid absorption are also good choices, especially if the exercise is intense or lasts longer than 45-50 minutes.  The sports drink should contain a carbohydrate concentration of 6-8% (g/100ml).  Higher carbohydrate levels are not absorbed as quickly. The optimal beverage for fluid and energy replacement is a 6% carbohydrate-electrolyte solution.

Treating an Injury

Quick action when an accident occurs on the field or court– whether it’s a soft tissue injury (a sprain or strain) or a bone injury–can reduce pain, swelling, and possibly longer-term complications. The following are some general first aid tips:

  • Ice: For soft tissue injuries, apply a cold pack, ice bag, or a plastic bag filled with crushed ice on the injured area for 20 minutes at a time, 4 to 8 times per day. Ice slows the bleeding and fluid build-up which lead to longer healing times. Remember to never apply ice or a “cold pack” directly on the skin.
  • Compression: Compression of an injured ankle, knee, or wrist may help reduce swelling. Use elastic wraps, special boots, air casts or splints. 
  • Elevation: Keep the injured area elevated above the level of the heart.
  • Rest: Reduce or stop using the injured area for 48 hours.

Severe injuries such as obvious fractures and dislocated joints, or if there is prolonged swelling and/or prolonged or severe pain, require professional care.

It is important to rest following an injury.  Returning to competition too soon after an injury can lead to repeated injuries of the damaged tissue. However, returning to controlled motion early can be the key to better healing. Being aware of your body and its limits may help to save your competitive career and you enjoyment of your sport.