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Play It Safe: Avoiding Springtime Sports Injuries

Springtime can be prime time for sports injury, especially for teen athletes and so-called “weekend warriors” who try to squeeze their athletic activities into the weekend. If you are ready to get out and enjoy the warmer weather, here are some friendly reminders to play it safe.

Adam Bennett, MD, a NorthShore board-certified family practitioner sub-specializing in primary care sports medicine, offers practical advice to athletes of all ages to reduce injury risk while enjoying outdoor activities. Dr. Bennett also serves as a team physician for the Chicago Bears and U.S. Soccer.

Q: What are some common spring injuries and their causes?
A: Many weekend warriors either may not be exercising during the week, or if they are, they’re not exercising in ways that help prevent injury before going full force into a weekend of playing sports. In these adults, I see a lot of acute tendon or muscle injuries, such as a torn Achilles tendon or a pulled hamstring. Teens tend to have a lot of overuse injuries. Many teen athletes play multiple sports or play the same sport on multiple teams, so they’re at risk for tendonitis, stress fractures and shin splints.

Q: What injury-prevention tips would you offer these athletes?
A: Weekend warriors and recreational athletes should include some type of athletic training during the week, ideally twice a week, to help strengthen the muscles they use in their dominant sport. Even working out once a week can decrease the likelihood of injury. Training should mimic the sport played and include more explosive types of exercises, such as jumping rope, lifting weights or sprint intervals. Teens who play their sports multiple days in a row need to take a day off for recovery. They should not spend their day off running around the neighborhood but rather should lay low to rest their muscles and tendons. This can positively impact performance as well as help prevent injuries. Teens also should strive for good nutrition to properly fuel their bodies. They should eat meals between practices that include vegetables and lean proteins and stay well hydrated with water and sports drinks. With any athletic injury, for adults or teens, it is extremely important to make sure they’re fully healed before returning to their sport to reduce the risk of repeat injuries.

Q: How can someone tell if he or she has sustained a sport- or fitness-related injury?
A: It can sometimes be difficult to differentiate between an injury and soreness. A little soreness for a few days is normal. In general, be aware of what feels or sounds like a “snap” or “pop,” or any swelling or pain that gets worse. These usually indicate an injury that needs medical attention.