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Every year, there are over 3.5 million annual injuries among children and teens who participate in organized sports. While some sports are clearly more dangerous than others, every fitness and athletic activity comes with some risk of injury. Surprisingly, using exercise equipment results in the most injuries every year, followed by basketball, cycling, and football. Playground equipment is high on the list, too.
The protective gear needed depends on the activity. Some activities only require basic protective clothing, while others require more advanced protective gear. However much (or little) protective gear an activity requires, it’s important that what you wear is in good condition. Otherwise, it won’t provide the protection you need.
Types of Sports Injuries
There are two main types of sports injuries. Understanding what you’re at risk for is the first step to preventing it:
- Overuse Injuries
- Occur gradually with time, making them difficult to diagnose.
- Result of doing the same activity in the same way over and over.
- Common overuse injuries include tennis or golf elbow, shin splints, and stress fractures.
- Traumatic Injuries
- Occur suddenly and feels like something is wrong.
- Symptoms include bruising, pain, and swelling.
- May be caused by external (collision with another player or piece of equipment) or internal (pulled muscle) factors.
- What caused the injury may or may not be obvious.
- Most common in contact sports instead of other types of athletic activities, like dancing.
In addition to wearing the right protective gear to decrease the risk of injury, players and participants should be in good physical condition for the activity. Also, when it comes to contact sports, players should only compete against other players of similar stature and ability.
Basic Protective Gear
Specific protective gear is matched to specific sports because those sports pose unique risks. For example, concussions are most prevalent in football, which is why helmet technology is so important. If you don’t wear the correct protective gear, not only could you get hurt but you could also lose the chance to ever engage in that activity again. Let’s go over a few basic pieces of sports equipment:
- Footwear: Proper footwear is important for anyone whether or not they’re participating in a sport. If you are playing a sport or another type of activity, footwear can provide the protection and support your feet, ankles, and legs need. The footwear should be in good condition; overuse can wear down the padding and/or tread, making it less effective.
- Helmets: The type of helmet you wear and the specific coverage and protection it offers will be based on the sport. Football helmets protect the head and neck in case there’s a collision with another player, while rock climbing and cycling helmets protect the head in case the individual falls. There are a lot of questions about whether or not helmets can be improved to keep athletes more protected, especially from concussions. While it seems possible to improve helmet safety, doing so becomes complicated in regards to the age of the athlete and the sport being played.
- Mouth Guards: Mouth guards are worn in sports where it’s likely the player will be hit in the mouth – boxing, hockey, and rugby, for example. Mouth guards need to fit the individual’s mouth correctly in order to provide protection, which means protecting the teeth and preventing the teeth from injuring the tongue or lips on impact.
- Padding: Padding is commonly worn in sports like football and hockey. The pads serve a few purposes. They can support and protect the body part they’re covering to prevent fractures or sprains. They can also protect the parts of the body that are likely to come in contact with the ground, which reduces the risk of dislocation and strain.
- Eyewear: Protective eyewear is commonly seen in sports like racquetball and swimming, but really any sport with flying equipment such as a ball could benefit from its use. Some regulation sports don’t call for or allow protective eyewear, but if a player wears glasses for vision correction, getting UV blocking contacts will both protect their eyes from UV rays while playing outdoor sports as well as prevent their glasses from being broken and possibly injuring them.
Even though some protective gear is specifically designed for the sport being played, and that gear has been improved to provide more protection with less bulk, some professional athletes are still going into competitions wearing less than what’s safe. It brings up the obvious question of whether or not sports leagues should require (instead of suggest) players to wear a certain amount of protective gear. Not only can injuries like broken bones become expensive to treat and fix, but serious breaks and fractures can result in an infection or be difficult to set and reconstruct, which could end an athlete’s career.
Warming Up Before Exercise
It would be remiss to leave out the topic of warming up before exercise because it’s one of the top ways to prevent injury, along with wearing the right protective gear and being in good shape. Warming up doesn’t mean walking in place for five minutes, especially if you’re going to participate in a more intense activity afterward. A dynamic warm-up involves various strengthening and cardio exercises done at a reduced intensity to get your body prepared for the activity. Ultimately, you want to get your heart rate up and use a range of motion on your muscles and joints so they’re ready for the next phase.
Being in good physical condition and wearing protective gear that’s relatively new and meant for the specific sport will help protect players and participants from getting hurt. Pain or injury should never be ignored. If any injury is left untreated, it could result in even worse complications, like an infection. For minor injuries, parents and participants should know the RICE treatment, which stands for rest, ice compression, and elevation. Sports injuries should always be assessed by a professional, though – you never know if there’s a more serious injury underneath seemingly tame symptoms.