My time as an athletic training student and now a certified athletic trainer has given me the opportunity to witness and treat a variety of athletic injuries.
But some of the most common injuries I have seen in volleyball, basketball, football, baseball, softball, soccer and cheerleading are ankle sprains, anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) sprains and rotator cuff strains.
These injuries partially come from the physical demands of a sport. The rotator cuff, for instance, is a group of small muscles that come together into a collective tendon that works to complete specific shoulder motions. This tendon is stressed with overhead activities, such as in volleyball (spiking, serving, etc.) or repetitive throwing mechanisms, such as that seen in baseball (cocking the arm back, acceleration, deceleration).
Ankle sprains are a bit more frequent in cheerleading, soccer or basketball, and they are most likely to happen when the ankle is turned inward with or without the toes being pointed downward. Typically, a basketball player could come down on an opponent’s foot or land awkwardly on the outside of his/her own foot, stressing supporting ligaments and many times tearing them in the process.
The anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) is a ligament between the femur (thigh bone) and the tibia (“shin” bone). The ACL prevents the shin from moving too far forward in relation to the femur and limits internal rotational movements of the shin. So, this ligament is damaged when the tibia slides forward and is simultaneously rotated. This typically happens when an athlete plants his/her foot and suddenly changes direction; such as when a running back goes to run a flat route before receiving the football; or when landing wrong after a jump.
These injuries are quite common, yes; however, they are preventable. To reduce the likelihood of rotator cuff strains, it’s important to exercise the musculature of the shoulder complex. As stated before, the rotator cuff is composed of small, accessory muscles that aid larger muscles in gross movements. So, strengthening the larger muscles to ensure they can do their job efficiently will help to not overwork the smaller muscles (as it does not take much to activate them).
The rotator cuff can be activated and strengthened with fine motions such as writing one’s name or the alphabet on a wall with a small medicine ball; or wrapping a resistance band around the wrists and “walking” the wall using only the palms of the hand.
The National Athletic Trainers’ Association’s Journal of Athletic Training “Prevention of Lateral Ankle Sprains” reports taping and bracing the ankle has its benefits in reducing the likelihood of ankle sprains. Although a ligament is at its strongest when it has never been injured, many athletes rely on the mere perception of stability and support provided by taping and bracing. The article further states that “postural control, however (the act of maintaining, achieving or restoring a state of balance during any posture or activity), seems to improve with taping and bracing.”
The likelihood of ACL sprains can be reduced by improving form through quadricep, hamstring, gluteal and core strengthening. The Mayo Clinic also recommends landing evenly on both feet; keeping the knees shoulder length apart and bending them when landing; and aligning the body with the feet when landing.
Athletes can significantly minimize the risk of injury if they focus on strengthening muscles surrounding the joint to improve overall athletic performance and prolong the life of an athlete’s career. For tips and techniques to further prevent injury ask a sports medicine professional to ensure you have a safe and successful sports season.
Wrakyia Platt-Gregg is a certified athletic trainer at MUSC Health-Orthopaedics and Sports Medicine and works with student athletes at John W. Moore Middle School in the Florence One Schools district. For more information, call 843-413-6835 or visit MUSChealth.org/florence.
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