Anterior Cruciate Ligament Tear

You’ve probably heard of professional athletes sidelined by an anterior cruciate ligament, or ACL, tear. This injury, caused by pivoting suddenly and twisting the knee in the process, can make your knee feel shaky or unstable. It also causes swelling and intense pain, and you might hear a popping sound at the time of injury. If you experience these symptoms and suspect that you have torn your ACL, see a doctor immediately, because this can be a potentially serious injury that can cause long-term complications, such as early-onset knee arthritis, and often requires surgery.

The anterior cruciate ligament connects your thigh bone, or femur, to your lower leg bone, which is known as the tibia. Athletes at risk of damaging this ligament are those who play sports which require suddenly changing direction while running, such football, basketball, gymnastics and soccer. Also, for reasons that remain unknown, women are more likely to tear their ACL than men.

If you think you have torn your ACL, your doctor will ask you questions to establish whether your injury is, indeed, an ACL tear, and he or she may take an X-ray to establish the root of your knee pain. Until you see your doctor, stop training; in fact, it is best to completely immobilize the knee using a splint to prevent making the injury worse. If your foot or lower leg becomes blue and cool to the touch after your injury, you should head to the emergency room immediately, as this may be a sign you dislocated your knee, cutting off circulation to the rest of your leg.

If your ACL tear is mild, you may need to use crutches and perform physical therapy to help the ligament heal. In more serious cases, however, surgery is necessary to repair the torn tissue.

Learning proper sports techniques and staying in good physical condition can help prevent an ACL tear, as can mastering ways to minimize stress on the ligament while being active. Performing exercises to strengthen your hamstrings and quadriceps also can help prevent an ACL tear by making your leg more stable.

Achilles Tendonitis

According to a well-known Greek myth, the god Achilles was impervious to the arrows of his enemies—except for his heel, which proved to be his downfall. This part of the anatomy can also prove to be a problem for athletes who participate in sports that demand a lot of jumping, starting and stopping, such as tennis, basketball or running up and down hills.

That’s because increasing this kind of activity too quickly, or doing too much, can lead to Achilles tendinitis, also commonly known as Achilles heel.  Your Achilles tendon attaches the muscles that run down the back of your calf to your heel bone, and it can acquire small tears that inflame the tendon.

Achilles tendinitis can cause dull pain, swelling and stiffness in the heel, which may seem to feel better immediately after you start moving, but then worsen again as you continue the activity such as running or jumping.

Basic at-home remedies, such as rest, compressing the heel and taking anti-inflammatory medication such as ibuprofen, help Achilles tendinitis heal in the majority of cases.

But if the tendinitis isn’t going away, if your heel makes a crackling noise when you touch it, or if you can’t bend your foot towards the ground, you may have ruptured the tendon, and you should see your doctor immediately. He or she will examine your foot and may use magnetic resonance imaging, or MRI, to evaluate whether your heel pain could stem from another injury.

If you do have Achilles tendonitis, your doctor may suggest you add extra support to your shoes, since the condition also can result from over-pronation, in which the feet have flat arches. You may also need to use crutches or a supportive boot to take pressure off of the heel. In the most extreme cases, surgery might be needed to snip off the enflamed tissue surrounding the tendon.

To prevent a recurrence of Achilles tendonitis, make sure you increase your activity level gradually, and that you stretch the tendon and your calf muscles regularly to keep them pliable. Using these tips, Achilles’ downfall doesn’t have to be yours.

Abdominal Strain

Weight lifting, or even just lifting a heavy object using improper form, can cause an injury to the abdominal muscles that is known as an abdominal strain. This injury usually affects the front abdominal muscles, but can also cause pain in the muscles on the side of your abdomen, known as the oblique muscles. Football players and weight lifters are at the highest risk of this injury.

The first symptom of an abdominal strain is pain. You likely will find it very painful to do crunches or touch your toes, and you may experience muscle spasms in your abdomen. Severe abdominal strains also can cause swelling and bruising of the affected muscle.

If you think you may have strained your abdomen, the first line of treatment is icing the area, taking anti-inflammatory medication such as ibuprofen to decrease swelling, getting plenty of rest, and possibly stretching the area gently if this does not cause pain. If your pain persists, consult a physician to find out how you can better help your injury heal. In some cases, surgery is necessary to repair torn tissue, and steroid injections also are sometimes employed to facilitate healing.

It can take anywhere from weeks to months for an abdominal strain to completely heal; recovery time varies based on the severity of the injury along with your body’s response to treatments. Once you think your abdominal muscles have healed, use caution when returning to your training. First make sure you complete simple tasks such as doing crunches or touching your toes; this will provide a good indication of whether you have completely healed. Jumping back into training before the muscles have completely healed is dangerous; it can lead to another abdominal strain–perhaps one even more serious than the first one.

When you return to training, start slowly. Keep your core muscles–your abdominal and back muscles–strong by doing exercises such as crunches and working on an inflatable exercise ball. The stability that a strong core provides can help prevent future abdominal strains.

Inflammation or Rupture of the Triceps Tendon

The triceps tendon sits on the back of your upper arm, connecting your triceps muscle to your elbow. Lifting weights that are too heavy means the connective tissue in your arm has to try to make up for this extra weight, putting excess strain on these tendons. This can rupture the triceps tendon or cause inflammation due to overuse, and is an injury most often found in weight lifters and football players.

Key signs of a triceps tendon rupture include pain and swelling at the back of and around the elbow. It may also be difficult to move your arm or flex or extend your elbow.

If you think that you have an inflamed or ruptured triceps tendon, consult a sports medicine specialist. He or she may take X-rays to rule out other causes of your pain, and likely will prescribe anti-inflammatory pain medication, such as ibuprofen, to decrease pain and swelling. You also should rest the affected arm.

The specialist might also prescribe rehabilitation exercises to boost strength, range of motion and mobility in the affected arm. If the rupture or tear is severe enough, surgery may be necessary to repair it. Remember to increase training slowly so as not to tax tendons and muscles that likely will have atrophied during the time you were resting the arm. To prevent this injury in the future, don’t increase the amount of weight you lift too quickly.

Entrapment of the Median Nerve

Median nerve entrapment, also known as carpal tunnel syndrome, may not be known as a sports injury, but in fact the condition can be caused by activities such as swinging a squash or tennis racket. Symptoms commonly include numbness and tingling in the hands or wrist, and pain when moving the fingers or hand. You also may feel weak when you try to carry bags, and as though you are losing fine muscle coordination in your fingers.

The median nerve runs through your wrist and to parts of your hand, including the palm, thumb and some of your fingers. When the carpal tunnel (where the nerve runs through the wrist to the hand) becomes inflamed due to swelling from repetitive motions, it can put pressure on this nerve, causing the symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome.

If you think your median nerve has become entrapped, your physician can make sure this is the correct diagnosis. He or she will examine your hand and wrist to see where and when you feel pain, numbness and tingling. You may also undergo tests, such as wrist X-rays, to rule out other causes of your pain.

Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications, such as ibuprofen, can decrease swelling and improve your symptoms. Treatment measures include exercises to strengthen and stretch your hand and wrists. Yoga also tends to improve hand and wrist function. In some cases, however, surgery to reduce pressure on the median nerve is necessary to heal carpal tunnel syndrome.

Once you’ve recovered from carpal tunnel syndrome, prevent it from coming back by increasing your activity (such as playing tennis) gradually, and by continuing to stretch and strengthen your hand and wrist. You may also want to consult an expert to improve your grip or swing to reduce strain on your wrist.

Osteitis Pubis

Groin injuries can be some of the most painful and most difficult to treat; one such injury is known as osteitis pubis. This condition occurs when the base of the bone where the two halves of the pubic bone meet in the middle (the pubic symphysis) become inflamed. Bony growths can also develop around the pubic symphysis.

Osteitis pubis is most common among soccer players and runners and causes intense pain that may be chronic. Symptoms include dull or sharp pain and tenderness in the groin area, located in the front and center of the pubic bone. In addition, this pain can sometimes spread up into the lower abdominal region and even down through the upper legs.

Causes of osteitis pubis are diverse. Increasing training too quickly, exercising on uneven and/or hard surfaces, tight muscles, and imbalanced muscle strength can all lead to osteitis pubis. Poor running or walking form can also cause osteitis pubis, as can having legs that are not the same length.

If you think you may have osteitis pubis, rest, ice, compress and elevate the affected area. After a period of rest, if your symptoms remain, consult a sports medicine professional. He or she can rule out other possible causes of your pain, and may recommend stretching or strengthening exericses to put you on the road to recovery. An X-ray or computed tomography (CT) scan may also be used to detect the telltale sign of osteitis pubis (a widened, irregular pubis symphysis).

Once your osteitis pubis has cleared up, prevent it from coming back by always wearing well-fitting footwear, increasing your training and mileage gradually, keeping your body strong and limber, and allowing yourself sufficient rest between training sessions to let your body recovery.

Stress Fracture of the Fibula

The fibula is one of the two bones that make up the lower leg, and is the thinner of the two (the other bone is the tibia). Because your lower leg can bear quite a bit of weight and strain during sports that require running and jumping, these bones are prone to stress fractures, or tiny cracks in the bone. Although the fibula is the site of a stress fracture less often than is the tibia (because the tibia, being larger, takes on more of the weight and strain), the fibula can develop a stress fracture.

Athletes whose feet overpronate (rotate inward and downward) have a higher risk of a stress fracture of the fibula. That’s because overpronation means some of the muscles in the lower leg must work harder while running. Symptoms of a stress fracture of the fibula commonly include pain and tenderness, especially when you place weight on the leg or when you press on the bone with your finger.

If you think you have a stress fracture of the fibula, you should stop training and rest the leg. Stretching the muscles of the leg can facilitate healing, as can wearing a brace for support. It’s very important to make sure you are free from pain before you resume activity, since failure to allow the fibula to heal properly can cause the injury and pain to linger for months.

To prevent a stress fracture of the fibula, make sure you increase mileage and training gradually, and that you wear equipment and footwear that properly support your feet and legs, if applicable.

Navicular Stress Fracture

In many sports, the foot can take quite a beating, and over time, this can lead to a stress fracture. The navicular, a bone in the foot that sits atop the heel bone, can be vulnerable to stress fracture, and this injury is rather common among athletes who do a lot of jumping and running.

Sports that particularly increase the risk of navicular stress fracture include track and field, ballet, football, basketball, rugby and gymnastics. Common symptoms of the injury include swelling in the midfoot and pain that may last for months. This pain may fade away with rest, but tends to return when you resume activity. In addition, pressing on the so-called “N spot” between the foot’s arch and the heel on the bottom of the foot causes tenderness if a navicular stress fracture is present.

If you think you might have a navicular stress fracture, you should consult a medical injury specialist as soon as possible. That’s because letting this injury go untreated can cause long-term foot pain; early treatment is crucial. The specialist may use a bone scan or magnetic resonance image (MRI) to look at your bone and see whether it has the tiny cracks characteristic of a stress fracture.

If you do have a stress fracture, you likely will need a cast for at least six weeks, or until the tenderness in your foot is gone. Your sports medicine specialist might recommend physical therapy and rehabilitation and strengthening exercises to strengthen the foot and regain range-of-motion.

To prevent a recurrence of your navicular stress fracture (or to prevent it in the first place), make sure your equipment and footwear fit properly, and increase training and mileage gradually. Shock-absorbing inserts for your shoes can also protect the bones of your foot from the stress of your own body weight.

Extensor Tendonitis

The five tendons that stretch across the top of the foot are collectively known as the extensor tendons, and like other connective tissue, if these tendons become inflamed, it can cause pain and swelling, and this condition is known as extensor tendonitis.  The extensor tendons help pull the foot upward into an “L” shape, working as a team with the calf muscle, which pulls the foot downward. Athletes with the highest risk of extensor tendonitis are those who flex the foot repeatedly, such as in running, especially uphill.

Causes of extensor tendonitis can vary, from increasing mileage too quickly, to footwear that is worn out or  improperly supports the arch of the foot, to running on hills. Stiff calf muscles can also cause extensor tendonitis. Symptoms include pain on the top of the foot, discomfort while running, and swelling on the top of the foot.  Additionally, an inability to push the toes upwards toward the ankle when resistance is applied to the toes can be another sign of extensor tendonitis.

If you think you may have extensor tendonitis, the first step to recovery is to take a break from training. Resting, icing, using compression bandage and elevating the affected foot can all expedite healing. If pain persists or gets worse despite this treatment, however, you should consult a sports medicine specialist. He or she can rule out other possible injuries that could be causing your pain, such as a stress fracture, and can prescribe other ways to help your foot heal. It may be necessary to wear a brace or cast to support the foot, and special exercises–such as those that loosen the calf muscles–also might help speed healing.

After your extensor tendonitis has healed, keep it from coming back by wearing shoes that fit properly, and by increasing mileage gradually.

Footballer’s Ankle

As every athlete knows, repetitive motions can lead to wear and tear which can give way to painful injuries over time. The movement of kicking–such as in sports like soccer, also known as football–is no different. The repetitive strain kicking a ball can place on the connective tissue, or ligaments, in the front of the ankle, can lead to the painful condition known as footballer’s ankle. Because footballer’s ankle also can be the result of flexing the foot–not necessarily kicking with it–the condition also sometimes occurs in dancers, basketball players and baseball catchers.

Kicking repetitively can enflame certain ligaments and tendons in the ankle, making it painful to stretch the foot downward, straightening the toes. The extra room that these irritated ligaments can take up can mean they get trapped between the bones of the ankle, making it painful to move the foot upward, flexing it into an “L” shape. This is known as impingement syndrome because the ligaments get pinched between the bones. Extra bone growths known as osteophytes also can develop in the ankle, causing further pain when you flex your foot.

Footballer’s ankle can also cause weakness in the ankle, and you may experience a clicking sound as you flex and straighten the ankle.

If you think you may have footballer’s ankle, you should see a sports injury specialist as soon as possible. He or she can examine your ankle and rule out other causes of the pain. He or she will look for signs of swelling and establish which movements cause you pain. Finally, an X-ray might be necessary to evaluate whether you have developed bone growths in the ankle.

Sometimes rest, icing, using a compression bandage, and elevating the affected foot, along with stretches and exercises to encourage range-of-motion, are enough to clear up footballer’s ankle. If not, however, surgery may be necessary to shave away excess tissue and bone growths.