As sure as the tulips come up each spring, so too do the injuries to those who reach for their tennis racket or softball mitt for the first time in months—or maybe even years.

“They might not take the time to warm up properly, do too much in the first practice or do too much in a golf lesson,” says Dr. Timothy Quinn, senior partner of Far Oaks Orthopedists.

From acute sudden trauma to pain from overuse, injuries from athletic activity do not discriminate. Quinn and the region’s other sports medicine doctors and physical therapists treat all ages and see the gamut of injuries occurring in limber-bodied youngsters, weekend warrior adults and people trying to get back into shape.

Injuries to the knees, feet and shoulders dominate the list of the 10 most common sports injuries, according to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. 

Rattle off the list—ankle sprains, plantar fasciitis, ACL injuries, meniscus tears, shoulder dislocations, rotator cuff tears, stress fractures, carpal tunnel syndrome and wrist fractures—and it’s enough to make anyone consider skipping their next intramural soccer match or work softball game. 

What’s more, the academy’s list doesn’t take into account the aching backs and joints that can slow down, or even sideline, the most motivated athlete. 

However, the right treatments and prevention methods can keep most people in the game, doctors and therapists say. Their advice: do what’s right for your body—before, during and after a workout, whether you are 50 or 15. 

Treatment

If pain does come, determine if it’s from an acute injury, such as a break or a tear, or if it is sore from overuse. People are fairly educated on how to care for basic injuries at home—using rest, ice and heat, says Chrissy Crowe, a physical therapist at Premier Health in the Miami Valley Hospital Sports Medicine Center who also works with athletes from the University of Dayton. 

“If it’s just a nagging ache, and only bothers you with some things, try some of the home remedies,” she says. “But if that doesn’t work, definitely within a week or two, go see your physician about it.” 

After discussing the injury and treatment options with a doctor, patients can also find information at anationinmotion.org, a project of The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, to help make a decision. The site features a series of studies on the economic and societal value of various types of orthopedic care, such as reconstructive surgery for ACL tears. 

With or without surgery, doctors may recommend physical therapy. A physical therapist can evaluate the body’s strengths and weaknesses, create an exercise plan for therapy sessions at the center, and use a variety of technologies, says Crowe. 

The dry needling technique, which is similar to acupuncture, is one of the most effective advances she’s seen in her years of practice. Dry needling uses thin needles to target and release trigger points in muscles to restore function. 

Another useful method, Rehabilitative Ultrasound Imaging (RUSI), uses ultrasound technology to help patients and therapists see the muscles being targeted and know if they are being used properly during treatment. It’s often used for patients with lower back pain. 

Dry needling, RUSI and other approaches can be paired with exercise and stretching to help patients reach their goals, she says.

Prevention and Resources

For older athletes, getting the body and mind to agree on what is the right workout is often a challenge, and cause, of injury, says Dr. James Klosterman, an orthopedic surgeon with Premier Health. 

“In the older athlete, collagen fibers are not as flexible; cartilage breaks down,” Klosterman says. “But our brain doesn’t shut down.”

Strenuous workouts such as P90x and Crossfit are great for 20- and 30-year-olds, but not as good for those in their 40s and 50s, he says. Still yet, the older athlete tries to match the younger, he adds.

Chris Chiudioni, a physical therapist with Kettering Sports Medicine, says patients need to evaluate what exercises work for them and be educated before starting something new. Many people need to stay away from overhead press motions, for instance, which invite shoulder injury. Athletes do not have to wait for an injury to see a therapist, he says. A physical therapist can help on the prevention side, as well. 

“Go see a doctor and get a one-time visit to therapy where we assess what you’re doing and how you are doing it,” he says. 

Teens: “The challenge is everyone around them.” 

Prevention can play a big role in keeping teenage athletes safe. With pressure to play the same sports year-round and to play through injury, teenagers are suffering adult injuries, Klosterman says. 

As a father, he knows the tension of wanting a young athlete to compete at all costs, recounting a story of having his daughter play through an injury with the notion of taking care of it after the competition was over. “I was a culprit,” he says. But it’s up to adults—parents and coaches—to enforce limits and implement injury prevention techniques and cross-training to lower risks.

“The challenge is everyone else around them,” he says. Things won’t improve until “we take the trophies off the table a bit.” 

Chiudioni says teens should take time off from a sport, cross-train and strength train. Female athletes, who see more ACL tears, aren’t as likely to strength train, he says. Runners of any age also need to cross-train and strength train, he adds. Many runners are weak in the stomach, back and hips, which causes the bigger muscle groups to overcompensate for the weaker ones, resulting in hip and knee pain. 

Dr. Quinn calls himself the “old guy” of Far Oaks Orthopedists. He admits to some joint pain himself, and has taken preventative measures to stay active in a safer way by riding an Elliptigo, an outdoor elliptical bike. Designed for standing rather than sitting, “It’s very kind to your joints, back and hips,” he says.

Yoga and Pilates are excellent prevention tools, Quinn says. They help muscles, tendons and joints be more accommodating to other exertion. 

Start out slow, Quinn says to those who are getting back into exercising as the season changes. 

“Be realistic—don’t go back your first day and go out and play a doubleheader,” Quinn says. “Ease into things, train properly, give your body a day of rest and start yoga.”