Sports injuries can happen at any time to anyone, not just dedicated athletes. That’s why it’s important to know what to do if you find yourself knocked down on the field or court.
Whether you’re practicing for a big game or just playing after work with some colleagues, a sports injury can happen to any of us. You need to know how to evaluate the injury and determine where you need to seek assistance—whether at home, at an urgent care, or at the ER. Some of the most common sports injuries include:
- Shin splints
- Sprained ankles
- Tennis & golf elbow
- Runner’s knee
- Groin strain
- Lower Back Pain
- Shoulder injuries (dislocations, sprains, & strains)
What types of sports injuries are most common?
Sports injuries run the gamut, from collisions to tendonitis. Some are obvious results of collisions, while others cause constant pain over the long term. So what kinds of injuries should you be looking for on the field or court?
There are several main categories of sports injuries, such as sprains, strains, pulls, and tears. Sports injuries can be either “acute” or “chronic”. For example, “acute” injuries occur as a result of an obvious collision or accident during play. “Chronic” injuries arise from repeated injuries to the same joint, ligament, or muscle that isn’t obvious at first, but eventually lead to constant pain. They are often called overuse injuries.
Acute injuries can include ankle sprains, ACL tears, pulling the groin, a concussion, or pulling a hamstring. Chronic injuries include tendonitis, tennis elbow, or shin splints. While chronic or overuse injuries aren’t as easy to spot because they don’t suddenly occur during a sporting event, they are just as painful—perhaps more so because they occur everyday. So what should you do if you’ve encountered an acute or chronic sports injury?
Evaluating the Injury
Before you decide what treatment you need for your sports injury, it’s important to gather some basic knowledge about the source of the pain. Make sure that the injured person has stopped using their injured body part, whether after an accident during play or if an overuse injury has been identified.
Next, ask the patient (or yourself) about their pain level. Try the following line of questions:
- Can they put weight on it?
- Is the pain severe/unbearable?
- Is there swelling?
- Is there numbness?
- Is the pain on the site of an old injury? If so, is there swelling, joint abnormality, or instability here?
The answer to these questions will tell you where you need to go next.
How to Know You Can Treat It at Home
If you have an accident while playing sports, you can quickly tell if you will able to treat the injury at home or not. The bottom line is that if you don’t have any of the symptoms mentioned above, then you’re probably all set to treat the injury at home, at least at first.
For example, if you have minimal swelling and can put weight on your injury, there is not much more an urgent care facility or ER can do for you besides what you can do at home. Use the RICE method to treat less painful injuries at home: Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation. Remember that if your pain worsens or does not get better after a few days, it may be time to seek medical attention.
When to Go to an Urgent Care Facility
At the site of a sports injury, you can quickly evaluate whether or not you need to go to an urgent care facility. The bottom line here is whether or not you need a doctor. Once it is established that you do need to see a doctor, the next step is to evaluate whether this need requires an urgent care visit or an ER visit.
Think of an urgent care facility as the less expensive brother to the ER. An urgent care is often equipped with x-ray machines, triage care, and other things you’ll get at the ER for a fraction of the cost. This doesn’t replace your primary care doctor—an urgent care won’t refill your prescriptions, for instance—but if you are bleeding (unless it’s a sensitive area), you’re having unexplained joint pain, or even suspect a concussion, an urgent care is the place to go.
It’s also often more convenient to go to an urgent care facility than a doctor for sports injuries. Sports are often played after hours and on weekends, when primary care doctors are closed.
Should you go to the ER?
Save an ER visit for actual emergencies, when you can tell that the injury is life-threatening. That’s really what an ER is for. Go to an ER for a sports injury when:
- You think you may be having a heart attack
- You’re having a hard time breathing
- Your severe pain is located in the abdomen or halfway down the back
- You faint
- You have a sudden and severe headache
- You have a broken or dislodged bone
- The injury is to your eye
- You suddenly get a high fever
- You vomit uncontrollably
- You have a seizure without a history of them
As you can see, there are different levels of injuries involved with sports. If you’re ever injured while playing sports, or have a flare-up of a chronic condition that is worse than usual, you need to take a moment and evaluate the situation. Do you need to go home, to an urgent care facility, or to the ER?