Sports injuries occur during athletics or exercise, commonly to the musculoskeletal system. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC), participation in sports is currently on the rise. High school athletes account for an estimated two million injuries, 500,000 doctor visits, and 30,000 hospitalizations each year. How can athletes recognize, treat, recover from, and prevent their sports injuries?
Sports injuries are very common across all athletics. Ms. Kara Dolling, Director of Sports Medicine and Athletic Performance, explained that sports injuries can result from traumatic events, overuse, lack of strength and training, or repetitive stress.
Dolling said injuries are present in athletes on both ends of the spectrum: those just beginning to play a sport, and those who are well seasoned.
Competitive Varsity Volleyball player Ella Grbac (`18) sustained an acute injury in 2016. Acute injuries are the result of a single, traumatic event. Last season, Grbac and her team were on the path to regionals. Grbac said she was in her best physical shape during that time. “I went up to hit a ball on the outside, and when I landed, my knee bent inward and snapped my ACL and part of my meniscus,” she said.
Not all injuries are due to traumatic events. Varsity Girls Cross Country runner Katie Engle (`19) endured a minor overuse injury. Last season in Cross Country, Engle finished third in the state. She said, “I just became injured at the start of the season. I put in a lot of miles this summer and must have simply overused it.” Engle started feeling pain in the inner part of her lower leg. Dolling said Engle had a shin splint which could progress into a stress fracture if she continued to run.
Dolling is the primary response to injuries, as she is trained in emergency medicine and evaluation. She said, “When someone is injured and they come to me, I look at the injury, look at what’s going on, and determine what route is the best to take.”
Mr. David Pfundstein (`93), Head Boys Basketball Varsity Coach, attests to Dolling’s expertise by sending injured players to see her right away. Mr. Pfundstein accommodates his injured athletes to make sure they undertake safe exercising habits. He said, “We watch the injuries a lot, but again, we have to make sure the players are in basketball condition. We want to make sure they are 100% before they go out there.”
Some athletes who become injured are in a rush to compete or practice again. However, Mr. Pfundstein said, “You can’t just go out when your season starts and say, ‘Okay, I’m gonna turn it on.’ I think that’s where you see a lot of injuries—when people think that way.”
Instead of working up to normal recovery and reaching competition status, some athletes stop recovery prematurely before they return to play. They decide that since they feel better, they no longer need to continue therapy.
Dolling said that after sustaining an injury, it is integral to undergo proper recovery to prevent being re-injured. Athletes who have not completely rehabbed are at further risk of injury. “If you’re not rehabbing just as hard as you are training for your sport, then you’re not giving your injury enough time,” said Dolling. Rehab and recovery are essential elements to participating again in your sport safely.
Grbac cautiously made her way down the path to recovery. “Recovery started very slowly. I had to start from scratch rebuilding the muscle in my left leg. I went from building the strength of lifting my leg off of the ground to being able to jump again,” she said. Grbac was cleared to play in July of 2017 after nine months of recovery.
Engle also made steps toward her recovery. She stopped running for two weeks and then eased back into her routine. She said, “By being patient, I was able to heal quickly and become faster.” She increased her mileage and did more repetitions, which helped her get back into shape.
Recovering from a sports injury is more than just physical, it is mental as well. Girls Prep Hockey player Maura McKeown (`19) experienced an injury during her preseason training when she tore a ligament in her right ankle. Upon diagnosis, the doctors said she would be out for at least four months.
McKeown recalled the impact her injury had on her mentality. “I felt as if my heart had been ripped from my chest,” she said. Since McKeown played hockey her whole life, she explained, “At that moment in time, I really questioned everything about myself, my life, and who I was. I would ask myself the question, ‘Who am I without hockey?’”
It took the support of her peers to get McKeown back on the ice. She had a fast recovery due to her positive mind set on getting better. Mckeown’s team placed ninth in the nation at U19 Tier 1.
From a different perspective, Varsity Girls Basketball player Sarah Bohn (`18) reflected on the mental importance of training, after recovering from stress fractures in her shins due to overuse and muscle weakness.
Bohn said, “Being injured and sitting on the sidelines the first time gave me a new appreciation for playing the sport. Being injured and on the sidelines the second time gave me a new appreciation for…not just playing, but in preparing to play.”
Bohn explained that it is integral to work on skills for a sport, but being injured and seeing how it can affect teammates shows how important it is to condition. She said, “Since [basketball] is a team sport, I feel like I have a responsibility to do everything I can to make sure I’m in shape and healthy for the season.”
Although these girls are currently injury-free, they are working to prevent their sports injuries from coming back. Grbac exercises, rebuilds the muscles in her leg, applies ice to sore areas, and gets proper nutrition. Engle heats and stretches before practice, Bohn does pre- and post-season conditioning and lifting, and McKeown wears supportive shoes and tapes before practices and games. These girls also regularly see Dolling.
Mr. Pfundstein said, “We coaches have done a much better job of educating ourselves to the importance of doing great pre-season and off-season workouts.” This prevents a lot of injuries. Gilmour Academy takes advantage of the athletic staff, including Dolling, for sports medicine as well as the strength and conditioning program to help athletes recover from and prevent their sports injuries.