No one is immune from suffering a sports injury. From pro athletes to weekend warriors, anyone can experience sprains, strains and even concussions while engaging in their favorite sports. The risk for sports injuries increases during certain times of the year, including fall.
When athletes and others engaging in their favorite pastimes get hurt, they turn to an orthopedic specialist for treatment. These healthcare specialists can recommend the most effective treatments for any sports injury. Some have begun gearing up for the fall sports season with the expectation of seeing certain kinds of injuries related to typical fall sports.
“With football starting back up again, I would say concussion injuries are high up on the list,” said Dr. Marco A. Alcala, Jr., a primary care orthopedics and sports medicine physician for the Allegheny Health Network. Dr. Alcala also serves as the team physician for the Pittsburgh Pirates. “I would also add that acute injuries from contact sports, such as meniscus or ACL tears in the knees, and overuse injuries, such as muscle and tendon strains, tend to be common in the fall as well.”
Ronald DeAngelo, director of sports performance at UPMC Rooney Sports Complex, agreed that concussions are common fall sports injuries, along with ACL tears. “Of course, there are sprains, strains, and fractures, but dehydration and deconditioning can be a catalyst to a significant number of injuries,” he said. “If an athlete is not well conditioned, well fueled, and well hydrated, they leave themselves open to injury.”
Concussions account for 1.7 million sports-related injuries, and 3 million recreation-related injuries each year, according to statistics from UPMC Sports Medicine. Football causes about 300,000 of those concussions. Other popular sports that can lead to head trauma include lacrosse and soccer. As many as five out of 10 concussions go unreported or undetected.
Dr. Jason Clark, orthopedic surgeon at Butler Health System’s Orthopedic Associates, said he sees a good mix of fractures, knee and shoulder injuries, and concussions during the fall. Most of the injuries he treats are among student athletes.
Within the Allegheny Health Network, Dr. Alcala said that most fall sports injuries involve student athletes because high school sports programs—like football—are popular at that time. “However, the AHN Orthopaedic Institute provides care to athletes and active adults at every level, with programs focused on sport-specific training, enhancing performance, and treating injuries,” he added.
Pay Attention to Warning Signs
It can be easy to injure yourself if you aren’t aware of the warning signs your body sends when you’re pushing it too hard. Decreased strength when lifting weights, soreness, and fatigue are all indicators that you’re on the brink of disaster.
“The body needs time to rest,” said Dr. Alcala. “Be sure to get an appropriate amount of sleep to allow the body to recover. Taking breaks from specific muscles is ideal, as more work on the same muscle is not always better.”
One of the worst things athletes or anyone engaging in physical activity can do is to push through the pain, Dr. Alcala warned. “Very often, active individuals and young athletes tend to keep pushing through (the pain) because the pain is not that bad. But they end up causing chronic pain, which means more downtime.”
Immediately after an injury, Dr. Alcala said the best thing you can do is respect the injury and allow it time to heal. Rest, ice, and therapy for the affected injury, and a slow progression back to baseline and activity are key to recovery.
Dr. Clark agreed, urging student athletes to seek out help if they feel like something isn’t right. “Don’t be afraid to be assessed by the team training staff. It’s never their goal to pull you from a game or a season, although that’s always the student athlete’s biggest fear,” he said.
He warned that pushing through pain or injuries can prevent athletes from achieving their full potential or even worsen their injuries.
Monitoring for dehydration also is important, said DeAngelo. The color of urine is a good indicator. A “light lemonade color” of urine signals adequate hydration. Dark yellow is a warning sign of significant dehydration.
“You can also monitor your weight before and after practices,” he said. “If your weight is 3 percent or more lower than your original weight, then you may be dehydrated.”
Prepare and Prevent
As with any kind of injury, prevention is always preferable to treatment after the fact. There are stretches and other preventative measures athletes and active individuals can take to reduce the likelihood of injury this fall. Here are some of Dr. Alcala’s recommendations:
On- and off-season training should be considered to prevent injuries, and each should be approached with different mindsets. Working with a sports performance trainer like those at AHN can ensure that athletes and individuals receive guidance specific to their sport or activity.
Stretching tight muscles, including the hamstrings to prevent strains or tears, is important, but not immediately before training. Activating muscles before a workout is ideal versus stretching them to prevent injuries. This is new thinking among sports trainers on how to conduct the best sports conditioning.
Dr. Clark said three variables increase the risk for injury: intensity, duration, and frequency. Student athletes and other active adults who change more than one of these variables during a workout or while playing a sport may find themselves facing injuries.
Weekend warrior types should aim for 10 to 30 minutes of activity two to three times per week to reduce their risk of injury, Dr. Clark said. “It doesn’t have to be super intense. You can do walking, biking, or another kind of cardio plus light weight training,” he explained.
DeAngelo said conditioning for a sport is the most effective way to reduce injuries. “Too many athletes just play their sport but don’t condition for their sport. An athlete that is mobile, strong, conditioned, and well fueled nutritionally can lower their risk for injury.”
Even when they do all the right things, it’s still possible to tear an ACL or get a concussion, he warned. “It’s about taking care of your body and controlling the variables that you can control.”
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