A study that included 680 elite athletes representing 16 different sports revealed that an average of 3 in 10 young elite athletes suffer an injury each week. And over the course of a year, the study found that almost all of the participants had been injured at least once, and around 75% of the athletes reported that they had been seriously injured.
When excessive stress is placed on tendons, joints, bones, and muscles, injuries tend to occur. The most frequent types of sports injuries are sprains (injuries to ligaments), strains (injuries to muscles), and stress fractures (injuries to bones). These types of injuries usually occur due to trauma or overuse.
In terms of preventing injuries, the study determined that both male and female athletes were 100% more likely to be injured when they increased the volume and intensity of their training, and cut down on sleep. So, in addition to getting enough sleep each night in order to allow your body to rest and recover, some other injury prevention strategies for athletes include taking time off, using protective equipment that fits properly, strengthening your muscles, increasing your flexibility, and eating a healthy, well-balanced diet.
However, if you do get injured playing sports, there are certain things that you can do for both your body and your mind to give yourself the best chance of a successful recovery.
The Amount Of Time It Takes To Successfully Recover From A Sports Injury
Time is one of the most important factors when it comes to healing from sports injuries. The amount of time that it will take to recover from a sports injury typically depends on the location of the injury and the extent of the skin, joint, tendon, muscle, or bone damage.
Usually, bone fractures take longer to recover from than sprains or strains, while the complete rupture of tendons or muscles can take months before athletes are fully returned to athletic activity. That said, athletes do tend to heal faster than the general public because they’re in good physical shape, and they’re more likely to put in the time to rehabilitate themselves.
Average Healing Times For Common Sports Injuries
Research has shown that an average of 8.6 million sports-related injuries occur each year. 42% of those injuries are to the lower body, 30.3% are to the upper body, and 16.4% are to the head and neck.
Ankle Sprain: An ankle sprain is an injury that occurs when athletes roll, twist, or turn their ankle in an awkward way. While uncomplicated ankle sprains can heal in five days, the average healing time for more severe ankle sprains is between six to 12 weeks for full recovery.
Immediately following an ankle sprain, athletes should rest, add ice to the injured area for 15 to 20 minutes every two to three hours, use a compression sleeve to apply pressure to the area, and also keep their ankle elevated above their heart.
Bone Fractures: In sports, the highest rate of bone fractures occur with football and other contact sports. Simple bone fractures generally take at least six weeks to heal, depending on the age and health of the athlete, as well as the type and location of the break.
Tennis Elbow (Lateral Epicondylitis): Tennis elbow is an inflammation of the tendons that join the muscles of the forearm to the outside of the elbow. While tennis elbow can be caused by trauma, tennis elbow is predominantly an overuse injury.
Recovery from tennis elbow differs from person to person, but the average healing time is between three to 12 months for full recovery. Resting the arm is important, as is physical therapy. Physical therapists commonly advise athletes such as racquet sports players to strengthen their shoulders, upper arms, and abdominal muscles.
ACL Tear: The anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) is one of two ligaments that cross in the middle of the knee. It connects the thigh bone to the shinbone and stabilizes the knee joint by preventing forward-and-backward motion.
An ACL injury most commonly occurs during sports that involve sudden stops or changes in direction, jumping, and landing. An ACL injury may occur during non-contact sports such as downhill skiing, gymnastics, and tennis, or during contact-sports like football, soccer, and basketball.
The two main options to treat ACL injuries are either surgery and post-surgical rehabilitation or a non-surgical rehabilitation program. While there’s no set time for athletes to return to sports after ACL injuries, “Research shows that up to one-third of athletes sustain another ACL injury in the same or opposite knee within two years, suggesting that an ACL tear recovery time of 10 months or longer may be associated with a lower-risk of re-injury.”
Shin Splints (Medial Tibial Stress Syndrome): Medial tibial stress syndrome, which is commonly known as ‘shin splints,’ is an overuse injury or repetitive-stress injury of the shin area. Shin splints are one of the most common lower-extremity injuries suffered by athletes.
When recovering from shin splints, athletes should take at least two to four weeks off from their sport. And depending on the severity of their shin splints, athletes may need between three to six months to fully recover.
5 Tips To A Speedy Recovery From Sports Injuries
Today, sports medicine professionals continue to treat injuries with a mixture of everything from the past. However, they now also tend to pay more attention to tissue regeneration – trying to get the tissue to return to normal, not just stop hurting.
So, let’s take a look at some valuable tips to a speedy recovery from sports injuries.
RICE (Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation) Right After An Injury
Immediately following an injury, use RICE (Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation) to promote healing until you can see a doctor.
Rest – Stay off the injury and avoid any motion that causes discomfort.
Ice – Apply ice to the injury for 15 to 20 minutes every two to three hours.
Compression – Use a compression sleeve or stocking to apply pressure to the area.
Elevation – Keep the location of the injury elevated above your heart.
Get A Proper Diagnosis And Make Sure That You Understand Your Injury
Minor sprains or tears usually improve significantly after two weeks of rest and a break from the sport that the athlete plays. However, if athletes aren’t getting better, then they should see a sports doctor and go for imaging tests, if needed.
A thorough clinical examination and imaging tests will confirm the diagnosis and help focus the rehabilitation strategy to enable a faster recovery with limited complications. Plus, understanding the nature of the injury helps a great deal with the mental preparation during recovery.
Go To Physical Therapy
The process of healing from sports injuries often includes physical rehabilitation. Physical therapy helps athletes to rebuild strength and movement in parts of the body after an injury. PT can also help athletes manage pain, and can help to prevent further damage or recurring problems.
Take Advantage Of Massage Therapy
Massage therapy can help release your fascia, which in turn can improve your mobility.
For instance, if one tight muscle pulls on nearby fascia, it can disrupt the integrityof the entire system since a shortened muscle decreases range of motion and circulation to compressed tissues.
Consume Foods And Supplements To Support Healing From Sports Injuries
Protein-rich foods, vitamin C, omega-3 fatty acids, calcium-rich foods (and vitamin D), and whey protein are some of the foods and supplements that can help an athlete’s body heal faster after an injury.
Protein-rich foods like meat and fish enhance the body’s muscle-building process, vitamin C (found in citrus fruits and dark leafy greens) helps with the production of collagen that rebuilds tissues and has anti-inflammatory properties, and omega-3 fatty acids from supplements or natural sources like salmon, chia seeds, and walnuts limit excessive inflammation and help speed up recovery.
With bone injuries like fractures, consuming more calcium-rich foods such as milk, Greek yogurt, and almonds is key. Your body also needs vitamin D to absorb calcium, which you can get through exposure to sunlight.
In addition to consuming muscle recovery foods, research suggests that whey protein may promote muscle recovery after exercise in athletes. In fact, whey protein may also improve muscle function after resistance training.
The Importance Of Mental Recovery After A Sports Injury
Physical recovery is obviously extremely important after any sports injury, but an athlete’s mental recovery may be just as important, if not more so.
Some ways that athletes can improve their mental health after an injury are to practice mental imagery (visualizing themselves healthy), accept help and support from friends, teammates, athletic trainers, family members, and healthcare professionals, and focus on the present – not the past, or the future.