Contact-Sport Related Injuries
Jerry Martin provides an overview of the common contact sport-related injuries.
The risk of injury is part of the appeal of contact sports. Many fans and players love contact sports for the bravery players display when they make big tackles. Injuries are par for the course. As well as the usual sprains and strains familiar to any sportsman, contact-sport players regularly sustain cuts and bruises, and more serious injuries are not uncommon. A particular risk in a contact sport is a head injury. Rugby and American Football players often collide head-first, and a player on the receiving end of a hard tackle can find their head hitting the ground before they have time to stop it.
The pros minimise the risk of injury with carefully calibrated training regimes, put in place by accredited coaches, doctors and physios. At professional contact-sport matches, there is always medical staff present to check on an injury sustained in play. In the case of head injuries, players are monitored until a medical professional OKs them to return to the field.
The millions of amateur players worldwide, however, have little or no medical supervision. They decide for themselves if they are ready to get stuck back in. Players who pride themselves on being tough and players who are determined not to let their team down are especially at risk of playing with an injury that needs attention. The inevitable result is a repeated injury. A repeated injury is nearly always a worse injury. In the case of head injuries, the consequences can be very serious.
The Most Common Types of Injury
The most common kinds of injuries to contact-sport players affect soft tissues like tendons, ligaments and above all muscles. Quick turns, sudden leaps and sharp pivots are crucial weapons in the arsenal of a rugby or American Football player, but all these manoeuvres put a strain on the muscles and other soft tissues. Simply playing or training too much without sufficient recovery time makes your muscles vulnerable to damage.
There is a lot you can do to minimise your chances of sustaining a soft-tissue injury. Most players know that a warm-up is vital. A good warm-up oxygenates your muscles and stretches your muscles, ligaments and tendons. If you play contact sports, your training regime should incorporate drills which strengthen the muscles involved in sprinting, sudden acceleration, darting changes of direction and anything else which is a big part of the way you play. Do not try to do too much. If you train with weights, increase the weight gradually. If you are returning from an injury, accept that you will have to get your fitness back gradually. Always warm down as well as up. A warm-down should be gentle and focus on stretches.
Trauma injuries are one of the hallmarks of contact sport. When you hit another player or the ground, you can easily sustain a cut or a bruise, or, more seriously, a dislocated joint or a fracture. A player on the receiving end of a big tackle can get whiplash. Those sudden sprints and pivots can cause trauma as well as soft-tissue injuries. Ligament sprains and damage to cartilage are the most common.
Trauma injuries typically take much longer to heal than soft-tissue injuries. Some trauma injuries heal in days, but others take months. In some cases, trauma injury will not heal properly without medical intervention. Physiotherapy and even surgery might be necessary.
Scrum caps, helmets and gumshields go some way towards preventing superficial head injuries and damage to the teeth. Nothing, however, can guarantee a player safety from trauma injuries. They are one of the risks of contact sports.
One of the more common injuries in a contact sport is also one of the most serious: concussion. Usually, it is the result of a blow to the head, but whiplash can also cause a concussion. One of the dangers of whiplash concussion is that it is often overlooked. Sufferers believe they cannot be concussed because they have not taken a blow to the head.
A concussion is a brain injury. In most cases, its effects are temporary. A person with a concussion might feel dizzy. Their vision may blur, and they might even see double. A concussion can also make you nauseous, make your ears ring and make you slur your speech. There are sometimes cognitive symptoms, including memory loss and an inability to concentrate or follow what is being said to you.
It is important for all contact-sport players to know these symptoms and be able to recognise them. A player with a concussion should not be allowed to return to the field. If the player insists on continuing, the match officials should be alerted immediately. A player with concussion needs to go to a hospital. Playing on with a concussion carries the risk of sustaining a second concussion, which can be very serious. Research has conclusively shown that repeated concussions seriously affect long-term mental health. Repeated concussions may also contribute to the onset of ALS and Alzheimer's.
All traumatic injuries require rest and concussion is no different. A player who has sustained a concussion should take a break not only from physical exertion but also mental exertion. Even watching TV or using a computer risks causing the symptoms of concussion to return or even get worse. For this reason, people often feel frustrated and bored when they are trying to recover from a concussion.
The Concussion Controversy
The risk of concussion while playing contact sport has recently become a source of controversy. Some concerned parents in the UK have called for rugby, or at least tackling, to be banned in schools. But these calls have generally been seen as excessive. Neither the British medical establishment nor Headway, a UK charity which addresses brain injury, have supported the idea of a ban.
Another approach which has garnered some support is the introduction of compulsory helmets in rugby. Medical professionals point out, however, that it is usually not the initial blow but the movement of the head after it is been hit which causes a concussion. American Football players are required to wear helmets, and concussion is actually a bigger problem in that sport than it is in rugby.
Rugby's governing body acknowledges that the risk of concussion is an issue which needs to be addressed. World Rugby's preferred approach is to increase awareness of the risks of concussion through their coaching development programmes. Far from banning younger children from tackling, World Rugby believe that children should be taught to tackle properly at a young age, to avoid the dangers that result from reckless tackling by older teenagers.
Head Injury Claims
It is a complicated and involved process to claim for a head injury you have sustained while playing a sport. From a legal perspective, just by playing a contact sport, you have accepted certain risks, of which head injury is one. However, if your injury resulted from dangerous or careless actions on the part of another player, or from the carelessness of a match official, you might be able to make a claim. You will need the advice of a legal expert who specialises in this kind of claim. They can talk you through your options and instruct you in how to make a claim for a head injury.
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About the Author
Jerry Martin is a tutor at the Columbia University in the city of New York lecturing in Industry Business, Health, Fashion etc.
The following Sports Coach pages provide additional information on this topic: