Did you know that playing tennis with a badly strung racquet while wearing worn-out shoes can increase your risk of injury almost as much as playing football without shoulder pads? Using the wrong — or improperly fitted — equipment is a major cause of injuries.
The equipment you wear while participating in sports and other activities is key to preventing injuries.
Start with helmets: They're important for sports such as football, hockey, baseball, softball, biking, skateboarding, inline skating, skiing, and snowboarding — to name just a few.
Eye protection also is a must for many sports:
Mouthguards can protect your mouth, teeth, and tongue:
Wrist, knee, and elbow guards are important gear, too:
If you play certain sports, especially contact sports, pads are essential:
Some guys may also need to wear a protective cup (to protect the testicles):
And last but not least, the right footwear can keep you from tripping and falling:
Not only is the right kind of equipment important, so is the right fit. If you don't know if your equipment fits properly, check with a coach, gym teacher, athletic trainer, or parent to make sure you have the right size and that you're wearing it correctly. Many sporting goods stores can also help you find the right fit.
The bottom line: Wearing the right equipment with the right fit dramatically decreases your chances of getting hurt.
Don't rush into any sport or exercise without warming up first — muscles that haven't been properly prepared tend to be injured more easily.
Start out with some light cardiovascular activities, such as easy jogging, jumping jacks, or brisk walking, just to get your muscles going. Follow your brief warm-up with some stretches. (Stretching works best after a warm-up because your tissues are more elastic [flexible] due to the increase in heat and blood flow to the muscles.)
In addition to warm-ups and stretches, practice sessions are also excellent preparation for most sports or activities. If you belong to a team, attend as many team practices and games as possible. This will put you in top physical condition and help you and your teammates work together — and knowing how your teammates play will help prevent injuries.
Even if you don't belong to a team, you can use regular workouts and practices to enhance your performance and lessen the chance of injuries. Remember, if a tool isn't used, it gets rusty, so keep yourself in top shape with regular practice. For instance, try doing tennis drills or practicing your serve before starting a set. Shoot some baskets or play a quick game of one-on-one with a friend. Practice gets your brain and body to work together while improving your performance.
Although you should practice regularly, don't overdo it. Sudden increases in training frequency, duration, or intensity might produce better performance at first but can lead to overuse injuries later. Your doctor or coach can help you develop a training and conditioning program that's appropriate for your age and level of development.
If you've been injured and you try to come back too soon, you run the great risk of reinjuring yourself — maybe even more seriously than before. Don't let anyone — including yourself, your parents, your friends, or even your coach — pressure you into playing before your body is fully healed. Your doctor, coach, or trainer will give you specific advice on when you should return to your sport or activity.
Taking time to heal is particularly important if you've had a concussion. Lots of athletes try to come back too quickly after getting a concussion — because they can't see an injury, they think they're OK to play. But jumping back into the game too soon puts a player at greater risk for another concussion — as well as other even more dangerous brain injuries. So always get clearance from your doctor to play again if you've had a concussion.
Many athletes use pain relievers to avoid pain. If you feel persistent pain, don't use pain relievers to mask it, though. Taking large amounts of pain relievers — or, worse yet, taking pain relievers for a long time in order to play — can be dangerous. Pain is the body's way of signaling it's not happy with what you're doing. If you have a lot of pain, seek treatment so you can resolve what's causing it.
Be sure to seek medical treatment whenever you experience:
The same advice goes for a cold or flu virus — don't play if you're sick. You won't be able to concentrate if your head is stuffed up and your nose is running faster than you are, and your lack of concentration can put you at risk for injury. You can also spread the cold or flu to the rest of your teammates. It's better to wait until you feel better, so you can have a safe season.
Rules and regulations usually exist for a good reason — to keep you and your teammates in the game and to avoid injuries. Do yourself a favor and learn the rules thoroughly — and then follow them.
Rules aren't restrictions. They're designed to promote safety so that everyone can enjoy the game. For example, a late hit in football after the referee's whistle has blown leads to a pretty big penalty. This rule is important because a player could be seriously injured if he or she is not expecting a tackle after play has stopped.
Sometimes rules may not be directly related to a sport or activity but need to be followed anyway. For instance, if you're inline skating, skateboarding, or riding a bike, pay strict attention to all traffic laws, especially when riding on busy public streets.
Proper techniques also promote safety. This goes for any sport, from motor racing to baseball. Baseball players know not to spike the opposing player who's covering the bag, even when sliding hard into second base. And when two tennis players rush the net, an expertly angled volley is the correct shot — not a hard smash socked directly at an opponent's face!
Another example of a safe technique occurs in weightlifting. Weightlifters should take a breath between each repetition. Exhale on the pushing phase of a lift. So if you're doing a bench press, let the bar come down to your chest, and if you're pushing up, breathe out. Holding your breath can raise your blood pressure, and if you're pressing a lot of weight this can lead to a blackout or fainting spell.
So whether you're following rules, regulations, or proper techniques, remember that they aren't there to restrict you — they're there to keep you safe and injury free.
Reviewed by: Sarah R. Gibson, MD
Date reviewed: September 2014
|U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) This federal agency collects information about consumer goods and issues recalls on unsafe or dangerous products.|
|American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS) The AAOS provides information for the public on sports safety, and bone, joint, muscle, ligament and tendon injuries or conditions.|
|National Center for Injury Prevention and Control (NCIPC) The website of NCIPC contains a variety of injury prevention information.|
|American College of Sports Medicine This site has tips on staying safe while playing sports and exercising.|
|National Athletic Trainers' Association This site contains information on certified athletic trainers and tips on preventing and healing sports injuries.|
|American Sports Medicine Institute The mission of ASMI is to improve the understanding, prevention and treatment of sports-related injuries through research and education.|
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|Dealing With Sports Injuries You practiced hard and made sure you wore protective gear, but you still got hurt. Read this article to find out how to take care of sports injuries - and how to avoid getting them.|
|Sports Physicals Just as professional sports stars need medical care to keep them playing their best, so do teenage athletes. You can give yourself the same edge as the pros by making sure you have your sports physical.|
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|Handling Sports Pressure and Competition Winning is all that matters when you play sports, right? Not when that means you can't even enjoy the game. Read about how to handle sports pressure and competition.|
|Advice for Athletes From a Gold-Medal Coach Bob Bowman coaches Olympic gold medalist Michael Phelps. He shares his thoughts on improving sports performance in this article for teens.|
|Bike Safety The sun is shining - why not dust off your bike and go for a ride? Before you hit the trail, though, read these tips on the right type of bike and gear you will need.|
|Knee Injuries Healthy knees are needed for many activities and sports and getting hurt can mean some time sitting on the sidelines.|
|Medial Collateral Ligament (MCL) Injuries MCL injuries - which are common in active and athletic teens - happen when excessive pressure is put on the knee joint, causing a torn ligament.|
|Sports and Exercise Safety Playing hard doesn't have to mean getting hurt. The best way to ensure a long and injury-free athletic career is to play it safe from the start. Find out how.|
|Strains and Sprains Sprains and strains are common injuries, especially for people who play hard or are into sports. Find out what they are and how to recuperate from one.|
|Sports Center This site has tips on things like preparing for a new season, handling sports pressure, staying motivated, and dealing with injuries.|
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