The image of Victor Cruz, the New York Giants Pro Bowl wide receiver, crumbling to the ground, clutching his knee in the end zone during a game against the Philadelphia Eagles in 2014 was stauch reminder that injuries can happen at any time, to any player—mostly, when you least expect it.
Cruz suffered a ruptured patellar tendon, one of the most serious injuries for any football player. It took quite a while for Cruz to rehab and while he returned in 2016 looking a bit like his old self, many times, that injury is career-ending.
Any time you step out onto the field of play, whatever the sport or exercise and regardless of location, you always run the risk of some sort of injury. However remote that possibility is at any given moment, that repeated wear and tear on your body eventually adds up, leading to excessive stress on the muscles and joints that lead to injury.
In general, listen to your body, and do your best to distinguish good pain—like general fatigue—from the bad—jolting or dull pains, excessive fatigue. Struggling to do those last couple reps might seem like a good idea in the short term, but it could ruin your progress in the long run with a damaging and lingering injury.
With the input of Dr. Michael Camp of MyCompetitivelife.com, here’s a list of the most common sports injuries you’ll want to avoid. Be conscious of them as you play or work out, as any one of them will throw a huge wrench in your training—not to mention the pain that goes with it.
Most Common Sports Injuries: Plantar Fascitis
Often the unwanted product of repeated stress on the feet, plantar fasciitis is a painful condition that comes about when the tendon that runs along the arch of the foot becomes strained, making it feel tight and not as pliable as it should be. Symptoms vary, but many with the condition report feeling dull or even sharp pain during every step. In turn, this is something that could make you jealous of anyone able to walk without pain, so do everything in your power to avoid it.
Causes: A regimen that includes a lot of running and/or sprinting is often the culprit. Pair that with other factors like having naturally flat feet or using poor footwear that doesn’t provide enough support and you have a recipe for disaster. Other factors can include obesity, trauma or simply being on your feet a lot—hence the reason it was once called “policeman’s heel.”
Rehab Tips: Unfortunately, plantar fasciitis won’t go away overnight. It’s a gradual process and you have to be patient with it. Camp suggests rolling the arch of your foot over a golf ball, frozen water bottle or rolling pin for five minutes at a time to stretch out the strained tendon. Wearing a splint at night from a podiatrist, changing sneakers every two months, wearing thicker socks and stretching your Achilles should also help get you back to being comfortable on your feet.
Most Common Sports Injuries: Ankle Sprain
Causes: An ankle sprain refers to the “injury to the soft tissues, usually the ligaments, of the ankle” when it turns in during physical activity, according to Camp. As you know, the ankle sprain is that familiar sports injury that usually results from twisting your ankle – maybe from coming down from a jump incorrectly, planting your foot in the wrong spot during a cut or just from losing your footing while running. There’s often that moment when you wonder whether you just harmlessly rolled your ankle or truly sprained it. The prolonged pain as you keep moving gives you the answer you weren’t looking for.
Rehab Tips: Camp suggests the RICE method—rest, ice, compression and elevation—to effectively deal with ankle sprains. Once pain reduces, start back riding on a stationery bike, then move on to static balancing exercises while also strengthening the quads, hamstrings and glutes to increase ankle stability. He suggests light plyometrics before making a return to regular activity. Returning to your regular routine early from an ankle sprain just puts you at greater risk of suffering from another one, which could be even more painful and damaging to your ankle ligaments.
Most Common Sports Injuries: ACL Strain
The ACL is a ligament that runs behind the knee between the femur (thighbone) and tibia (shin bone). Strains can act as a wake-up call to strengthen your legs once you get your body back to pre-injury condition.
Causes: According to Camp, most ACL strains can be attributed to sudden deceleration, like trying to stop on a dime and cut in another direction, or from hyperextension of the knee or pivoting in place. Several sports regularly bring sources of stress like this down on the ACL, so if you’re not quite prepared for the fitness it takes to play a sport like basketball or soccer, you could put yourself at risk by throwing yourself out there.
Rehab Tips: Camp says your top priority needs to be strengthening your hamstrings. Building up your quads and glutes is also important. He says that active recovery should start with “heel slides with a weight, straight leg raises in various positions… side stepping with a resistance band and [various] hamstring exercises.”
Most Common Sports Injuries: Quad Strain
Causes: Quad strains can come about from a variety of factors. Camp says that any muscle imbalance between from the hips down to the toes can impact the quadriceps muscle. One common causes is simple overuse—pushing the quad further than you usually do on any given day—but there are several other ways to come down with it. Putting stress on the muscle when it’s not ready (like sprinting without doing a proper warm-up) is another common cause, while overstretching and trauma can be factors as well. The extent of symptoms run the gamut—many quad strains can produce mild discomfort, but some cause severe pain that will leave you in need of crutches.
Rehab Tips: Camp says that a foam roller is a must for the muscle’s recovery. After getting out those kinks, move on to exercises like straight leg raises, glute strengthening with clam shells, resisted side stepping and static lunges, moving up to walking lunges with progress.
Most Common Sports Injuries: Hamstring Pull
Causes: To put it simply, “hamstring injuries happen when the muscles are stretched too far,” according to Camp. Sprinting and any other sport that requires a ton of stress on the legs put participants at risk of hamstring pulls. Running, jumping and kicking sports bring about the most hamstring injuries—of course, that probably includes most of the sports that you can think of. Like quad strains, hamstring pulls can vary greatly in severity, from muscle pulls (Grade 1 injuries) to complete hamstring tears (Grade 3).
Rehab Tips: Camp says a big part of recovery from hamstring injuries is making sure to do exercises that rebuild muscle instead of scar tissue, effectively preventing re-injury. The active rehabilitation process starts with isometric exercises that contract the muscles but don’t move the joints, then moves onto exercise with light weights before starting with more strenuous exercise to steadily return to pre-injury health, and hopefully with some extra strength to prevent future problems.
Most Common Sports Injuries: Hip Bursitis
Hip bursitis causes pain over the outside of the upper thigh. The condition refers to a bursa, which is a fluid filled sac that makes it possible for efficient motion between two uneven surfaces. When the bursal sac over the outside of the hip becomes inflamed, it can’t do its job effectively, making it painful to move.
Causes: Hip bursitis is common in older individuals, but it also afflicts younger people who are very active. Although you can get it from a hard impact to the hip, in many cases, it’s yet another example of an overuse injury, coming about from activities like running, cycling or walking long distances.
Rehab Tips: “Improving strength and coordination in the buttock and hip muscles enables the femur to move in the socket smoothly and can help reduce friction on the bursa,” Camp says.
Most Common Sports Injuries: Low Back Pain
Causes: Any number of things can cause low back pain, a condition most active people are probably familiar with to varying degree. Camp suggests seeing your doctor if you run into a particularly debilitating onset of this pain, but it’s usually just something you have to be mindful of. Most of these injuries to the lower back occur from improper form in lifting or other exercise, trauma, sports or even just sleeping awkwardly.
Rehab Tips: There are several things you can do to stabilize your back after a bout of pain hinders you. If it feels serious, see the doctor, Camp says, then when you’re able, get back to exercising by working your glutes, hamstrings and core. Spinal mobility exercises like cat/camel and open book, planks and proper technique and position in various activities are all necessary to avoid further back problems.
Most Common Sports Injuries: Tennis Elbow/Elbow Pain
Causes: Tennis elbow is a condition brought on by the overuse of arm, forearm and hand muscles. It refers to an injury of the muscle and tendon area around the outside of the elbow. Of course, it often affects tennis players with poor backhand technique, but doing several other things that ask a lot of the muscles in question can also bring about the condition.
Rehab Tips: First and foremost, start with rest. According to Camp, it’s important to let the muscles and tendons heal on their own, and exercises to get your arm back in working form involve strengthening the opposing muscles by doing a series of different forearm workout routines.