Avoiding Joint Injuries

Most sports-related injuries involve damage to the joints.

Common joint injuries include a twisted ankle, sprained wrist, overextended elbow, and damaged knee ligaments. Fortunately, you can take steps to help prevent joint damage.

When exercising for health and fitness, you can be more at risk for overuse injuries, experts say. Fortunately, you can build strength in your joints and avoid joint injuries by stretching and exercising correctly.

Common injuries

A sprain is a stretching or tearing of a ligament, according to the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS). Ligaments join one bone to another. Sprains can be caused by a fall, twist, or blow to the joint.

A strain is a twist, pull, or tear of a muscle or tendon, according to NIAMS. Tendons connect muscle to bone. Strains are not caused by a blow or fall, but by a muscle or tendon stretching or contracting more than normal.

Ankle and wrist joints are especially susceptible to strain and sprains. 

Knee injuries also are common. They can range from mild to severe, and the pain can be at the front, inside, or outside of the knee. Normal wear and tear over time can cause degeneration of the cartilage in the knee.

Injury-prevention tips

Following these guidelines can help prevent injuries:

  • Avoid doing too much, too soon. Never increase the length of your workouts by more than 10 percent from one week to the next, and never increase both the length and intensity of your workout at the same time.

  • Maintain strength in the muscles surrounding the joint area. To strengthen the knees, do calf raises, lunges, squats, and leg lifts. For the shoulders, do simple moves such as push-ups, lateral lifts with light weights, and bench dips.

  • Train smart by cross-training. Repetitive-motion injuries caused by doing just one sport or workout are some of the most common. You can prevent them by doing different sports or activities that work different muscles. For example, if you mostly ride a bike, take a core-strengthening class once a week.

  • Never skip your warm-up or cool down. Tight or stiff muscles around a joint will make the area more prone to injury. This is especially important in sports that require quick movements, such as basketball and tennis.

  • Always use proper technique and body mechanics when playing sports involving repetitive motion, such as tennis and golf. Taking lessons from a certified coach or trainer every once in a while can help you learn and stick with proper form, which can reduce your injury risk substantially.

  • Keep in shape. A high cardiovascular fitness level is crucial to avoid joint injuries. Otherwise, as you tire your form can fail and your joints carry unbalanced weight.

  • Be sure to wear proper shoes that provide adequate support during exercise. 

It's important to know your limits and not exceed them when exercising or participating in physical activities. Proper care of your joints can preserve function in the long term and encourage physical activity.