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What Happens If You Keep Playing Sports When You're Injured?

What if you keep playing when you have a sports injury? What are the effects?
– Ryan*

When it comes to sports injuries, the old days of "just suck it up" or "play through the pain" are over. Doctors, trainers, and most coaches now know that playing through a sports injury can cause damage that keeps you on the bench longer. Playing through an injury may even end your sports career entirely.

Continuing to play if you have an injury can make that injury worse. A small stress fracture that might have healed quickly can grow into a more serious, more painful fracture that will take longer to heal. Returning to play too soon after a concussion increases your risk of serious brain injury.

But, in addition to worsening an existing injury, playing when you're already injured means youalso can get hurt someplace else. That's because you may be playing in a way that's not natural for your body — it protects the injured area but puts other areas at risk.

So what should athletes do?

First, stop playing as soon as you notice an injury and talk to your coach or doctor. Then keep resting until you are fully healed and your doctor gives the go ahead (even if you feel sort of OK and there's a big game coming up, don't play unless your doctor says you can).

Second, condition your body. Sports medicine experts recommend training and conditioning as a way to prevent injuries from happening in the first place. For an evaluation of your strengths and weaknesses, talk to your coach or trainer, or visit a sports medicine center. Everyone has different strengths and weaknesses, and some of them are things you might not be aware of or expect.

A good athletic trainer or coach can evaluate you and then give you workouts and conditioning exercises that are targeted to your individual needs. These help you build up the weaker areas of your body so there's less risk of overall injury.

Sports medicine centers in children's hospitals are a good bet. Trainers and therapists who work with young athletes know more about developing bodies and the kinds of injuries teens can get than trainers who work with adults. If you already have an injury, these experts can give you conditioning exercises targeted to your body so that it both heals and grows stronger.

*Names have been changed to protect user privacy.

Reviewed by: Sarah R. Gibson, MD
Date Reviewed: 01-10-2020

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