Do you watch sports? How about playing them? What is the absolute worst sports injury that an athlete can experience? I see it all the time in the Emergency department, even the most advanced, strongest competitors come in with excruciating pain. And treating these injuries sometimes can leave a patient screaming even more…
And If you’re anything like me who grew up playing soccer (or Football my whole life), you train hard, work out, and compete at an advanced level. Sometimes bad technique, freak accidents, and injuries happen. That’s why today we are discussing and breaking down the 5 most painful sports injuries that can occur both on and off the field. Believe me when I say these are not pretty!
5. Broken Ribs
It doesn’t matter if you are a top Pro Football player getting sacked on the field or you're just riding your dirt bike off a jump and falling the wrong way, our first injury can be agonizing, and feel like it’s never going to end. It hurts when you laugh, when you sneeze, when you sleep, heck even when you breathe. A constant insufferable reminder that your sports career may have just ended, or at least seriously halted. Of course, I'm talking about multiple broken ribs. This injury makes it hard to just manage the normal day-to-day functions that we all take for granted and it could also be very dangerous. I’ll explain.
You see the reason we even have ribs, to begin with, is they are the skeletal protection for the lungs and the organs in your chest cavity. But here's the thing: they also along with the rib muscles expand and contract with normal breathing. So if you shatter or break a rib, say diving in the outfield during a baseball game, every time you take a breath, the broken pieces could be potentially jabbing the surrounding tissue and messing with your breathing. (possibly even puncturing your lung)
And unlike say a broken arm where we just cast it and send you home. Unfortunately, there is no way to fix a broken rib other than time. So the injured patient just has to chill and let it heal on its own for several months until the bone fuses back together.
So, if you break your rib and are in a ton of pain, get to the hospital so we can get some x-rays and make sure no further damage has occurred. Typically the pain management includes ice on the area to relieve the pain, pain medicine like acetaminophen or ibuprofen, and not I repeat not wrapping anything too tight on the area. Also, the patient will want to make sure they are taking deep breaths or doing breathing treatments because they could be at higher risk of pneumonia.
Have any of you ever broken a rib? Let me know in the comments what happened and what that was like for you.
4. Broken Tailbone
Football players, contact sports athletes you name it. Some of you out there may have experienced our next tortuous injury: the broken Coccyx. Yes, I’m sorry to report if you receive a direct blow or trauma to this area of the body you are not only going to be in a whole heck of a lot of pain but you’re also going to be finding yourself with a lot of downtime from your favorite sport and social calendar.
Alright so what is a coccyx and why does it take so long to heal? Commonly referred to as the tailbone, below the sacrum is the coccyx, It is a set of 4 bones and serves as an attachment point for several pelvic and hip tendons. Most of us use this part of our body for so many different functions. So when you injure that area let alone fracture it, you can say goodbye to comfortable sitting, sayonara to sleeping on your back, walking normally, or even going to the bathroom without excruciating pressure to that area. And this super painful and inconvenient road to recovery can unfortunately last months on end.
So how does one know if they have a coccyx injury? Well, the pain for starters but the injury is largely determined by a physical exam of the entire vertebral column as well as x-rays. Also oftentimes in the Emergency Department, a rectal exam may even have to be conducted to see if there is a dislocation or a fracture. Which is no fun for anybody.
To help with pain management we often tell our patients to ice it 15-20 minutes 4 times a day and take anti-inflammatory medication as well as the real secret helper is a cushion "doughnut" pillow to sit on. This cushion has a hole in the middle to prevent the tailbone from contacting the flat surface which will help alleviate some of the pain.
3. Dislocated Shoulder
Gymnasts, skateboarders, and baseball players consider this your warning because our next painful injury is a doozy. The dreaded dislocated shoulder, heck I'll even include a dislocated elbow in this description because no matter if it's your shoulder or some other area of the arm. Plain and simple: this is a painful injury, and for sure you will not be able to move your arm in the injured area.
A dislocated shoulder happens when your upper arm pops out of your shoulder socket. The shoulder is one of the easiest joints to dislocate because the ball joint of your upper arm sits in a very shallow socket. And there are three different types of dislocations, the anterior being the most common. But no matter which way you dislocate your shoulder, you will not be able to move your arm and it will be very painful. Also, the shoulder will suddenly look square rather than round. You may even be able to see a lump or bulge (the top of the arm bone) under the skin in front of your shoulder. If this happens to you it's super important to get to the Emergency department as soon as you can.
As an ER doc in the hospital, what I'll do if you come in with this injury is a: closed reduction or in other words, a procedure in which I'll attempt to put the ball of your upper arm back into the socket.
We try to treat shoulder dislocations immediately because though complications rarely occur, a person could be at risk for limb loss if damaged arteries or veins are not treated within six to eight hours after the injury. So it's super important we treat it right away. Now after it's set back into place, we may splint it, give you anti-inflammatory meds and suggest rehabilitation. Sometimes surgery is required as well but all in all, it usually takes about 12-16 weeks to get back to a normal range of motion in your arm.
2. The Anterior Cruciate
The Anterior Cruciate Ligament. Aka an ACL injury. This is one of the most agonizing pains a player or athlete can experience for sure. Located in your knee, the anterior cruciate (ACL), and other ligaments all are strong bands of tissue that connect your thigh bone, also known as your femur to your shin bone or your tibia. Oftentimes in sports when a player is doing sudden stops or changes in direction movements, jumping, or even landing weird in sports like soccer, football, basketball, skiing, snowboarding you name it. This can put a person at higher risk for an ACL injury.
And the Anterior Cruciate, you can either tear it or sprained it. And it may sound obvious but let me be clear, a tear is when the ligament is actually torn and that can be again either a partial tear or a complete one. As in fully torn. Whereas a sprain is when the ACL is overstretched but not torn.
When you see these sorts of ACL or other ligament injuries of the knee happen on the field it's a sight you won't soon forget. You will see some of the brawniest, strongest athletes in the world clutch their knees in screaming agony. Believe me, I see it in the Emergency Department all the time and it is a painful one that should not be taken lightly.
So how do you know if you have injured your ACL? Well, when the injury occurs often people hear a pop or a snap, and then suddenly they will feel unstable along with an insurmountable amount of pain. Also, a patient usually won't be able to bear weight on that leg. Depending on the severity of the ACL we will often grade the level of severity for instance it could be a level 1 sprain, but anyways f the injury is more severe or even torn completely you will be out of the competition for a while and have to partake in rehabilitation exercises to help regain your strength and stability. Also, surgery may be required to fix it as well. And Most people have a long road to recovery with an ACL tear usually taking six to nine months to recover. Have you or anyone you know torn or sprained their ACL? Let me know what your recovery process was like.
1. The Achilles Tendon Rupture
Yes, basketball lovers, tennis pros, heck even if you're just a normal non-athletic person might be walking downstairs a little too aggressively, listen up because this next heinous injury may just really rock your world and take you out of the competition game! Of course, I'm talking about the Achilles tendon tear or rupture. This can be not only devastating to a player of course but also super painful.
The Achilles tendon is a strong fibrous cord that connects the muscles in the back of your calf to your heel bone. If a person overstretched their Achilles tendon, it can tear. Sometimes you hear the words rupture and tear, they are the same thing, injured tissue that has a cut. But also keep in mind that this injury can be partial or total. If it's a total rupture of the Achilles heel, that means that the tendon has been entirely severed. This is very serious.
But backing up the bus a bit, How does one know if they tore it? Well most commonly if your Achilles tendon ruptures, you may hear that good ol’ handy dandy pop followed by an immediate sharp stabbing pain in your lower leg, the back of the ankle, and you probably won't be able to walk. What's interesting is the foot won't be able to bend down or you won't be able to push off of the injured foot. If you come to the Emergency Department we will probably run some image tests like an ultrasound, or MRI, And then from there decide if you need surgery to repair it or whether we will opt to fix it with nonsurgical treatments. But overall realistically you’re looking at a 4-6 month painful recovery process and physical therapy to get your mobility back from this type of injury.
Also, keep in mind that excessive use or overuse of that tendon through sports and non-stretched types of activity could cause tendonitis in the area and could be a contributing factor. As well as some medications such as certain antibiotics and steroid injections can also weaken the Achilles tendon. But honestly even something as random and simple as accidentally stepping in a pothole or something could cause this injury. So please be careful.