You should know something about some of the injuries you may come across when involved in physical activity. Some minor injuries can be dealt with fairly easily. Others are more serious and should only be dealt with by a qualified first-aider, physiotherapist or doctor. Even if the initial injury does not need immediate medical attention, it is always a good idea to get the injury checked by a doctor afterwards, particularly if the pain or swelling persists.
Medical help should be sent for immediately if:
- an injured person is unconscious
- a fracture is suspected
- a back or neck injury is suspected. In this case the person should not be moved.
If in doubt as to what to do, it is better to do nothing and send for help immediately, rather than do the wrong thing. Some common injuries that you might come across in relation to physical activity are explained below.
Bruises are caused by internal bleeding from blood vessels that have been damaged, often due to impact. Bruising may occur hours or days after the injury, but if it occurs soon after the injury then there may be a deeper injury. Applying ice to the injury will reduce the flow of blood to the area and reduce the amount of internal bleeding and bruising.
With any cut there is a risk of infection from dirt or germs entering the wound. In the case of a minor cut, the area around it should be cleaned and a sterile dressing applied until bleeding stops. The cut should then be covered with a plaster. If bleeding is severe, the body part should be raised and supported to reduce the flow of blood to the area. A clean dressing should be applied, with gentle pressure, to try to stem the flow of blood. If the wound is large, stitches may be required so the casualty should be taken quickly to a nearby hospital.
When damage occurs to a ligament, the injury is called a sprain. Ligaments join bone to bone in a joint and provide it with strength and stability. When a joint is forced beyond its normal range of movement, the ligaments are overstretched and a sprain occurs. If the ligament is torn, the casualty may have heard a snapping sound. This can make it difficult to know whether it is a torn ligament or a fracture. If in doubt deal with it as if it is a fracture.
When a muscle is partially torn, the injury is called a strain. This can occur as a result of over-stretching a muscle. The injury is usually painful when touched and flexibility may be reduced. You should not try to force the muscle to stretch as this could cause further injury.
A fracture is a crack or break in a bone. Fractures can be caused by a direct force, such as a heavy blow, or by an indirect force. With an indirect force, the force may travel from the point of impact through the body and fracture a bone somewhere else. A sudden twist or wrench is also an indirect force that may fracture a bone.
There are different types of fracture and some are more serious than others:
- Open fracture – the broken bone has pierced the skin and it may be sticking out.
- Closed fracture – there is no damage to the skin hut, there will often be bruising and swelling.
The casualty may have heard a snapping sound or felt a sharp pain. They will have difficulty moving the limb and this will be painful to do. The limb may be distorted, bruised, swollen or all three. If you suspect a fracture, you should not try to move that part of the casualty’s body. It may need to be immobilized by use of a splint. The injury will need to be treated by a doctor so you should send for an ambulance.
In a dislocation, a bone comes out of its normal position. This may be due to a strong force or muscle contraction wrenching the bone out of position. Dislocations occur most commonly in the shoulder, thumb, finger and jaw. As with fractures, the affected area should not be moved and the casualty should be taken to hospital.
The brain is a very sensitive organ. Any damage to the head could affect the brain, therefore it can be potentially dangerous. A person with a head injury should not continue the activity, but should be checked by a doctor. If the casualty loses consciousness, this may be due to damage to the skull, the brain or blood vessels inside the brain. You should place the casualty in the recovery position and send for an ambulance.
Concussion is a brief loss of consciousness, usually caused by a blow to the head. When conscious the casualty may feel dizzy, have a headache and even suffer loss of memory. If they regain consciousness quickly, they should not continue the activity, but you should watch them carefully and make sure they see their doctor. If the casualty remains unconscious you should place them in the recovery position and send for an ambulance.
The RICE procedure is a simple method of treating bruises, sprains and strains. The aim is to reduce swelling and pain. This may be the only treatment that is required for minor injuries but further medical attention may be needed:
- Rest – the injured part should be rested, so the activity should not be continued.
- Ice – apply ice to the affected area. This will help reduce swelling, bruising and pain.
- Compression – apply gentle, even pressure to the area. Cover the area with a thick layer of cotton wool and keep it in place with a bandage. Be careful not to make it too tight.
- Elevation – raise and support the injured part. This reduces the blood flow to the area and will reduce bruising.
Skin infections and disorders
Skin infections can be quite common among people who take part in physical activity:
- A verruca or plantar wart, is a wart that occurs on feet. It is contagious, which means it can spread from one person to another very easily, so great care must be taken to avoid this. There are creams available to treat a verruca but you may need to consult your doctor.
- Athlete’s foot does not just happen in athletes, but it is common among them. It is a type of fungus that grows on the feet and causes itching and broken skin. Like verrucas it is highly contagious.
If you have athlete’s foot or a verruca you should not walk around in bare feet or share your towel with anyone else, in case you pass the infection on to them. Creams and powders can be used to help treat the area.
Any open wound or burst blister needs to be kept clean so that infection does not set in and make the wound worse. A blister is caused by something rubbing against the skin or by a burn. You should never burst a blister as this could lead to infection. Some blisters will burst naturally. These should be covered to reduce the chance of infection. Attention to hygiene can help avoid some of these problems.
Environmental injuries – some injuries are caused by weather conditions such as temperature, cold winds or snow. These can happen to anyone who is exercising outdoors. However, those involved in mountaineering, climbing, sailing and canoing are more likely to encounter these problems.
- Hypothermia sets in when the body temperature falls below 35°C (normal body temperature is 37°C). This may be caused by being outdoors in cold weather for a long time, but may also affect people in the home, particularly the elderly or very young.
- Hyperthermia is the condition when the body temperature gets too high. This can happen when exercising in the heat. If the body is unable to get rid of the extra heat being produced, the body temperature will increase. This can result in heat exhaustion or heat stroke. Heat exhaustion can build up gradually and results in feeling dizzy, with headaches, sweating and cramps. The casualty needs to be cooled down and rested. Heat stroke is more sudden and the body starts to overheat dangerously. Body temperature exceeds 40°C and medical attention is needed.