Which Sports Cause the Most Injuries (and How to Stay Safe!)

This isn’t a big secret – being physically active on a regular basis is one of the best things you can do for your body. No matter if we’re talking about your foot health or overall wellbeing—and even extending into non-physical areas like your emotional and mental health—this ranks right up there with eating a nutritionally-balanced meal and getting enough sleep every night! The benefits of physical activity are abundant, but you need to keep in mind there is also always going to be an inherent amount of injury risk as well. Hold that thought for just a second because we need to make a quick interjection here – the potential for injury should not keep you from leading an active lifestyle! On the contrary, being active on a regular basis can actually lower the odds of becoming hurt. But it cannot provide 100% assurance that you will not become injured. Why is that? Put simply: If a human body is in motion, there’s a chance for physical injury. Not counting when a body is being moved by a vehicle—car, plane, train, etc.—the most likely reason a body is in motion with greater-than-normal speed and/or sustains tremendous physical force is during sports. When phrased that way, you might think “Sure, if a muscular, 280-pound linebacker is running at full speed and collides with a muscular, 260-pound running back—who is also going at full speed—there’s going to be a lot of force. But I’m not a professional football player.” Sure, in all likelihood, you don’t play in the NFL. (If you do, we provide comprehensive foot and ankle sports injury treatment!) But that doesn’t mean you still don’t put remarkable force loads on your body! Whereas you might not put the equivalent force of a car crash [on your body], you do have to endure remarkable force loads from even doing something as simple as walking. The odds are pretty good you’re unaware of this, but when you walk, your landing foot takes on a force load that is equivalent to as much as twice your bodyweight. If you take that amount and then multiply it by the 10,000 or so steps you might take during the course of an average day, it adds up to several tons of force! Now let’s say you run. In this case, you place as much as four times your bodyweight on the landing foot with every step! So all activities involve at least a certain degree of physical force (of various forms) being placed on the body. As you might expect, not all activities are equally risky in this regard, however. To identify which sports cause the most amount of injuries, we need to look at a big enough sample size – and we find one in the realm of high school sports. In fact, the Consumer Product Safety Commission did exactly that. (Admittedly, we aren’t sure why it would be the CPSC conducting the study instead of a different agency, such as the Department of Health and Human Services or possibly even the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.) When the CPCS looked at all injuries—and not just foot and ankle injuries—for highs school sports, they found the top-20 to be:

  1. Basketball
  2. Football
  3. Soccer
  4. Baseball
  5. Gymnastics/cheerleading/dance
  6. Wrestling/boxing/martial arts
  7. Softball
  8. Volleyball
  9. Ice hockey
  10. Snowboarding
  11. Weightlifting
  12. Track and field
  13. Lacrosse
  14. Horseback riding
  15. Ice skating
  16. Skiing
  17. Tennis
  18. Field hockey
  19. Rugby
  20. Bowling

Specific kinds of injuries include sprains, strains, contusions, abrasions, and fractures. With regards to where on the body the injuries happen, wrists and shoulders are pretty common sources of injury – but not nearly as common as ankles!

If you take a moment to think about it, that makes complete sense. Sure, wrists and shoulders are used in the majority of these sports, but they might not be used with the same frequency as the lower limbs. For example, you certainly need to use your wrist and shoulder joints to shoot a basketball at a hoop (well, if you want the ball to actually go in…). But you had to arrive at the point where you took the shot somehow – and it was your ankles that helped you get there. More than that, there are offensive possessions in the sport when players won’t even touch the ball, and yet they need to run and get back on defense (if they don’t want Coach to pull them out of the game). No matter if you’re playing a sport on a soccer field, basketball court, or ice rink, you will use your ankles a lot during competition or practice. Ankles are important joints, but they’re actually fairly delicately structured for the work they do. After all, we are talking about your lower leg bones sitting on the talus (ankle bone), which sits itself on top of your calcaneus (heel bone). The bones are connected with various ligaments – but those connective tissues aren’t infallible! Combine ankle structure with the aforementioned force loads from running, and you have a recipe for elevated injury risk. Fortunately, there are measures you can take to reduce that risk. When it comes to preventing foot and ankle injuries during sports, these measures include: Be active. It might seem counterintuitive to move more when moving can potentially lead to injury, but consider this – one demographic with higher injury risk is the middle-aged “weekend warrior” crowd. People in this group typically don’t perform much (if any) physical activity during the week, but they give maximum effort on the court or field. The problem with this is that their bodies are unprepared for it, and especially if they don’t stretch first. So if you want to lower your risk for foot and ankle injuries, stay active on a regular basis. Always warm up and stretch first. Take the time for a good warmup and dynamic stretches prior to moderate-to-intense physical activity. 5-10 minutes of brisk walking or light jogging will warm up your body and get it ready for action. Then use dynamic stretches (stretches where you are moving) to make sure your muscles and soft tissues are loose. Hold off on the static stretches—the ones where you hold a stretch for about 30 seconds at a time—for after your game or workout. Stretch on a regular basis. Speaking of stretching, taking a couple of minutes every day to stretch your lower limbs in the morning lowers your risk for common soft tissue injuries. If you think this will take too much time, consider doing it at the same time as other activities. For example, you can stretch your lower limbs while you brush your teeth! Ease into new activities. Too often, patients need treatment because they had tried to do “too much, too soon” when starting new exercise programs or making sudden increases in the intensity of an existing one. Remember, your body needs time to adjust to new activities. Even if you feel embarrassed or silly in doing so, start with lower levels of intensity and duration until you are ready to do more. Taking this approach means you won’t have to stop your workout program on account of an injury that would otherwise have been avoided. Make smart footwear choices. There are two aspects to this tip for preventing foot and ankle sports injuries – first, choose activity-appropriate shoes and, second, make sure they fit correctly. So if you enjoy basketball, wear basketball shoes—not running shoes—when you play. Make sure you have running shoes if you run. Etc. With regards to fit, make sure your heels are firmly cradled when the shoes are laced up, yet your toes have room to wiggle and aren’t pinched together in the front. And keep in mind that the shoes should fit when you buy them – don’t plan on “they’ll stretch out in time.” We hope you are able to safe while participating in your favorite sports, but (as noted) you cannot completely remove the injury risk from physical activity. There is some good news, however: In addition to the fact you can take measures to lower the risk, the majority of foot and ankle sports injuries do not need surgery! At Anderson Foot & Ankle Clinic, we are able to treat many injuries with conservative care. This tends to especially be the case for injuries that are treated in the earlier stages, so come in and see us as soon as you are aware of an existing problem. For more information or to request an appointment with our Salt Lake City office, call us at (801) 269-9939 or contact us online right now and we will be happy to help!

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