Nov 05, 2021 10:30 AM

When we play sports, we don’t plan to get hurt, yet there are common athletic injuries doctors see time and again. Justin Ernat, a University of Utah Health sports medicine surgeon, says he sees knees getting the brunt of athletic exertion. “In the top five, knee is number one,” says Ernat. “More than 50 percent of sports injuries are to the knee.” The full top five list is:

  1. Knee
  2. Shoulder
  3. Foot & Ankle
  4. Hip
  5. Head

There are also different injuries for different seasons and regions, Ernat notes. “In the summer, we expect mountain biking injuries to the shoulder, with broken collar bones, torn rotator cuffs, and shoulder dislocations. But then in the winter, it’s sometimes purely knee injuries from all the skiers and snowboarders.”

Sports injuries Ernat sees most are:

  1. Muscle and tendon strains
  2. Ligament sprains
  3. Bone fractures
  4. Tendinopathies
  5. Concussions

Some injuries are very sport specific. “There's a break you can have in your ankle called snowboarder's fracture, and a finger injury called skier's thumb,” says Ernat.

Climbing finger injuries are also common. “Climbers use a lot of fingertip strength in cracks, in crevices, and they generate a lot of power through their fingertips,” says Ernat. “So, they can get tears and ruptures of the flexor tendons that bend their fingers down, from that sudden grappling force.”

Common football injuries

“Heat exhaustion, with all that equipment and gear, can be an issue,” says Ernat. “Battling it requires frequent breaks and maximizing opportunities for hydration—especially when it’s hot outside.” Other likely football injuries are:

  • Knee sprain
  • Torn ACL or Meniscus
  • Collarbone or clavicle fractures
  • Shoulder dislocations
  • Concussion

Common basketball injuries

“An ankle sprain is the most common basketball injury,” says Ernat. “After that, knee sprains and a torn ACL or torn meniscus. In higher levels of basketball, with bulky six-feet-plus individuals exhibiting high amounts of torque through their body, it's not uncommon to see stress fractures in the feet.”

  • Torn ACL or Meniscus
  • Stress fractures (lower body/feet)
  • Tendonitis
  • Concussion

Common injuries in soccer

“Soccer is also the most common sport that creates ACL injuries. Any sort of knee strain or sprain is going to be common in a soccer player,” says Ernat. “It's such a lower extremity dependent sport. But especially in higher levels, I see things like concussions, where players aren't protected while they're lobbing for a header or a ball, colliding with other players.”

  • ACL tear
  • Meniscus tear
  • Knee sprain (ligament)
  • Knee strain (muscle and tendon)

Common Injuries in Baseball

“In baseball, it’s the pitchers we see most, with elbow and shoulder injuries,” says Ernat. “By high school or college, they're throwing so much with one arm, their shoulders have different ranges of motion and that makes them susceptible to injury. Pitchers can also lose torque when the ligament inside the elbow stretches out, which requires structured therapy or surgery to tighten.”

  • Elbow MCL sprain
  • Shoulder strain
  • Torn rotator cuff
  • Torn labrum

When Kids are Playing

With kids, one thing to watch out for is injuries to the growth plates—the tissue near the ends of long bones; injury there can affect how a bone matures. “Kids’ ligaments are stouter than their growth plates, which can suffer stress fractures from trauma or overuse,” says Ernat.

“With a lot of baseball play, kids can get debilitating and painful cartilage injuries in and around their elbow, and something called little league shoulder, where the growth plate in the shoulder becomes chronically irritated. So, it's extremely important to be aware of when our kids and adolescents might be overdoing it.

Prevention Year ‘Round

Preventing what may seem like the top 10 most common sport injuries, is preparation and maintenance, says Ernat. “Part of that is adequate rest between games and practice. But most important is maintaining a healthy body, with muscular strengthening and regular stretching.”

 “Baseball players should maintain a strengthening program focused on the muscular stabilizers of the shoulder and elbow, and a basketball player should be stretching the achilleas and hamstrings before practice, to prep for abrupt cutting and pivoting.”

Injury prevention also changes with age. “At 50, 60, and 70, we start to see wear and tear of the joints and swelling in response to a suddenly increased activity level,” says Ernat. So, ease into new activities and turn to low impact sports. Regardless of age or sport, staying active is key. “And that’s what I enjoy helping people do.”

orthopedic injury sports injuries sports medicine sports fitness wellness

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