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How To Prevent Common Summer Sports Injuries

Updated: July 11, 2022

Summer brings endless possibilities for outdoor activities during the warm, breezy summer months. We are lucky in St. Albert to have access to parks, trails, and rec centers to help us stay active and get the most out of summer. The options for outdoor play are numerous, which unfortunately means the risk of injury is present as well.

Here are some tips from a sports physiotherapist on how to avoid injuries this summer.

  • Keep fit all year round through strength, flexibility, endurance and agility training.
  • Stay hydrated and ensure you’re eating nutritious meals and snacks.
  • Don’t overdo your sport or activity – get into it slowly and progressively.
  • Watch the intensity, frequency, and duration of your participation.
  • Rest between sessions or cross-train so you rest the structures that get stressed with your summer sport.
  • Wear the proper equipment for your sport or activity.
  • Take lessons from an expert or professional to equip you with proper techniques and movement patterns.

How are summer sports injuries caused?

The majority of summer sports injuries originate from overexertion without proper preparation. Unlike the professional athletes we have been watching all winter, most of us haven’t been conditioning our bodies, pushing our endurance, and training our muscles for the summer. Many of us, in our excitement to get back out there and take advantage of the season, inadvertently put our bodies in harm’s way trying to reenact that 200-foot drive or stylish slide into home plate.

What are the top seven most common summer sports injuries?

We’ve compiled a list of some of the most common summer sports injuries with information on how they are caused and how to prevent them. Summer sports injuries include golfer’s and tennis elbow, sprained ankles, shoulder injuries, knee injuries, muscle strains, stress fractures, and muscle cramps.

1. Golfer’s & Tennis Elbow

Golfer’s and tennis elbow are similar and occur with overuse and excessive stress to the muscles and tendons in the forearm. Inner elbow tendon strain is called golfer’s elbow while outer elbow tendon strain is termed tennis elbow. These conditions involve irritation and inflammation of the tendons that attach around the elbow. The repetition of any activity that involves twisting or flexing of the wrist can cause golfer’s elbow or even a sudden movement that forces the hand backwards can cause the tendons on the inside of the elbow to tear (e.g. hitting the turf repetitively when playing golf).

Tennis elbow can be caused by repetitive gripping and moving the hand back and forth or repetitively twisting the wrist. Some activities that can cause tennis elbow if you’re not used to them are, painting fences with a brush, prolonged hammering, excessively using a screwdriver or repetitive backhand shots in racquet sports.

Symptoms of golfer’s & tennis elbow

Although this injury is common year-round with any repeated activity, the increase in regular physical activity during the summer months makes it occur more frequently in July and August. Often these injuries show their faces at the beginning of summer or at the beginning of the sporting season because the body isn’t used to that much stress and strain so quickly.

The most common symptom of tennis elbow is pain that radiates from the outside of the elbow. For golfer’s elbow, pain is on the inside of the elbow and can radiate down to the forearm and wrist. Both conditions will be painful with reaching, grasping or lifting.

How do you prevent an elbow injury in the summer?

To prevent an elbow injury this summer, pay special attention to strengthening and stretching the forearm. If you start to feel discomfort in your inner or outer forearm, take a few days off and rest, or at the very least reduce the amount of time spent performing that activity.

The worst thing you can do is continue to aggravate an injury that may otherwise go away on its own! Ease into any sport or activity whether it be golf, gardening, landscaping, canoeing or tennis.

If the pain does not subside, see a sports physiotherapist about stretches, exercises, heat/ice packs, other treatment measures and a brace which can distribute some of the impact and support counter pressure to the arm.

2. Sprained Ankle

When kids and adults join summer recreational team sports, the number of sprained ankles skyrockets. Divots in the fresh spring fields, improper equipment, slippery grass and rusty coordination make the possibility of injury high.

An ankle sprain is a result of damaging and over-stretching the ligaments in the ankle resulting in pain and disability that can last several days, weeks or even months. The possibility of further injury of other soft tissues such as tendons, muscles, and connective tissue is common.

Symptoms of a sprained ankle

Symptoms of a sprained ankle include:

  • Pain
  • Swelling
  • Bruising
  • Not being able to bear weight
  • Hearing a pop at the time of the injury

A very minor ankle roll will go away in a matter of hours or overnight. Whether it’s a minor or significant ankle injury, it is important to use the PRICE method (protection, rest, ice, compression and elevation) to alleviate pain and decrease the possibility of long-term injury.

If you’re not sure exactly what to do, make an appointment with one of our physiotherapists and get proper treatment started right away.

How do you prevent a sprained ankle in the summer?

To prevent a sprained ankle this summer, be aware of the conditions in the area you are playing in. Check before a game if there are any natural hazards such as rocks, holes or slippery playing surfaces that could interfere with safe movement. Ensure your shoes have ample grip and fit snugly so there is no room for the ankle to shift around or land improperly.

Before being active, introduce movement into your ankle by making circles or figure 8s with your foot for a minute. Take time for a foot and ankle stretch warm-up so that muscle groups are ready to take impact and will react to quick movements within the game. One-legged balancing exercises and agility drills are also helpful to get your muscles and nerves firing more efficiently!

3. Shoulder Injuries

The most common injury to the shoulder is a strain to the rotator cuff. The rotator cuff is a group of muscles and their tendons that attach from the shoulder blade to the upper arm bone that helps rotate the arm and stabilize the shoulder joint especially when the elbow is away from the body. Sports where the arm is moved repeatedly overhead, like baseball, tennis, and swimming, are the most common causes of this type of injury.

Symptoms of a shoulder injury

Pain from the rotator cuff can come from two issues:

  1. Inflammation in the tendons
  2. Tear in the tendons or muscles

A symptom of a rotator cuff injury is often pain in the front of the shoulder that sometimes travels down the side of the arm, usually only to the elbow. If you feel a sudden sensation of pain, especially with activities where you are reaching and your elbow is away from the side of your body, it could be a rotator cuff injury. In this case, rest and apply ice to calm the area and make sure you are pain-free before jumping back into sports! If the injury lasts longer than a week, make an appointment with your physiotherapist so we can get you back to your sport as soon as possible.

How do you prevent a shoulder injury in the summer?

The most important preventative measure you can take to protect your rotator cuff is to keep muscles in the shoulders flexible and strong with stretching and regular exercise. When it’s game time–watch your posture, take frequent breaks from having your hands overhead, and relax your shoulders so that movement is smooth.

4. Knee Injuries

There are many types of knee injuries that are caused by summer sports. Common knee injuries for runners include patellofemoral pain syndrome (PFPS), patellar tendonitis (jumper’s knee) and IT Band friction syndrome. These injuries are also very common for people participating in running, jumping and lunging sports like tennis, basketball, lacrosse, and soccer.

Ligament sprains (ACL/MCL/PCL/LCL) or meniscus tears can occur from pivoting or contact sports like football, rugby, and soccer.

Symptoms of a knee injury

There are many different types of knee injuries and the symptoms vary depending on the injury. Because different knee injuries often have similar symptoms, make sure to check in with your sports physiotherapist for diagnosis and treatment.

Here are some common symptoms of a knee injury:

  • Pain behind the knee cap, especially with stairs or hills (going down is usually worse than going up!). This pain is common with PFPS or patellar tendonitis.
  • Moviegoers sign: pain starts behind the knee cap when you’re sitting for a prolonged period of time without being able to straighten your knee out. Common with PFPS or patellar tendonitis.
  • Pain just below or at the bottom of the knee cap, and pain with jumping. This could be due to patellar tendonitis.
  • Pain and swelling on the outside of the knee, especially when running. This is a symptom of IT Band friction syndrome.
  • Pain inside the knee and not being able to fully bend or straighten the knee. This can be due to a meniscus tear and is also associated with a ligament sprain.
  • A swollen knee that locks in place or feels unstable and gives way at times. This is also a symptom of a meniscus tear or a ligament sprain.

How do you prevent knee injuries in the summer?

To prevent a knee injury this summer, take the time for a proper dynamic warm-up before your activity, stay hydrated and well-rested, and wear the proper footwear for your sport!

It’s also important to maintain a regular strengthening, agility and stretching program, even during the off-season. Don’t do too much too soon–slowly ease yourself back into your sport after the winter and after an injury.

5. Strains

Strains are the same thing as a “pulled muscle” or over-stretching a muscle or tendon. They often happen in the summer when someone gets back into a sport they’ve taken a break from over the winter. Muscles that are commonly strained due to summer sports include calves, quadriceps, hamstrings, and rotator cuff.

If there hasn’t been training throughout the winter to prepare for the summer activities, then muscles, joints, tendons, and coordination haven’t adapted to the amount of strain and demand being put on the tissues. This causes the muscles or tendons to break down or tear.

Symptoms of a strain

One symptom of a strain is the muscle tightens right away with pain. It often can feel like a cramp or charlie horse. Sometimes a “pop” or tear is felt or heard.

There is also pain when using the muscle and the joints associated with the muscle. If the pulled muscle is in the leg or hip, there’ll be pain with walking or using the stairs. If the pulled muscle is in the arm or shoulder, then usually there’s pain and weakness with reaching out or lifting. There may be bruising or swelling immediately but can be worse the day after the injury.

How do you prevent strains in the summer?

To prevent a strain this summer, ease into activities for a week or two before participating fully. Take the time for a proper dynamic warm-up and train through the winter to maintain coordination, agility, strength, and flexibility.

As well, we always recommend staying hydrated and well-rested!

6. Stress Fractures

Stress fractures are caused by overuse and mostly affect the shins (tibia) and bones in the feet. Poor footwear and/or a rapid increase in frequency, intensity or length of activity can lead to stress fractures, which is why they often occur in the summer after taking a break from activity over the winter. The bones don’t have a chance to adapt to the new and significant stress that’s being applied to them and a fracture starts to develop. Impact sports like running are often the cause of stress fractures.

Symptoms of a stress fracture

Symptoms of a stress fracture include pain in the bone with an activity that usually goes away after stopping, and as the injury worsens, the pain lingers long after the activity.

Pain can be felt during rest and can be severe enough to wake people up at night if the fracture has advanced. The bone where the fracture is will be tender to the touch, and sometimes swelling is present in the area. Eventually, pain can be felt with any weight-bearing activity.

How do you prevent stress fractures in the summer?

To prevent a stress fracture:

  • Slowly adapt to the new activity or sport
  • Ease into the frequency, intensity and duration of your sport or activity
  • Get enough rest between sporting events or training
  • Use proper technique — poor technique can lead to stress fractures
  • Wear the proper footwear and equipment
  • Keep properly hydrated and eat a nutritious diet

7. Muscle Cramps

Muscle cramps don’t typically require a visit to your physiotherapist, but they are annoying (and painful) when they interfere with your sport or even your rest. Muscle cramps are usually caused by doing more than what your muscle is used to or can handle. Lack of hydration and proper nutrition can also cause muscle cramps.

Symptoms of a muscle cramp

A common symptom of a muscle cramp is that it causes a painful tightening of the muscle, sometimes referred to as a “charlie horse”. Muscle cramps can last seconds or a few minutes.

If you are able, gently and slowly try to stretch the muscle to help the cramp go away, or even just slowly move the joint in different directions.

How do you prevent muscle cramps in the summer?

To prevent muscle cramps this summer it’s important to maintain a strengthening, stretching and agility program during the winter months to help the muscle handle the strain and stress of a summer sport. Practice a dynamic warm-up before being active.

Lastly, stay hydrated, ensure proper nutrition and get a good amount of rest in between activities!

What to do if you have been injured this summer?

Despite our best efforts, sometimes injuries happen. If you have suffered a sports injury, or suspect that you have one, here are the steps to take to get back to playing condition.

  1. Visit a sports physiotherapist: Sports injuries require specialized treatment. Our sports physiotherapists analyze your injury and prepare a customized treatment plan to help you prepare for returning to your sport as quickly and safely as possible.
  2. Follow your treatment plan: We understand summer is busy, and finding time in the day to fit in your prescribed exercises, or even finding time to rest, can be difficult. The surest way to get back to your sport as quickly as possible is to follow your custom treatment plan laid out by your physiotherapist.
  3. Don’t jump back in too quickly: Once your injury begins to heal, it’s tempting to get right back into your sport. You need to make sure to rehabilitate your injury properly and progressively work up to playing at your former level to avoid re-injury. Work with your physiotherapist to determine the best way to get back to playing your sport.

For more information about sports physiotherapy, or to book an appointment, call us today or book an appointment online.