Common Orthopaedic Injuries

Musculoskeletal conditions are among the most disabling and costly medical problems suffered by people in this country. As the U.S. population ages over the next 25 years, the number of people with musculoskeletal problems will increase because these conditions are most common in the older segments of the population.

These are the most common orthopaedic injuries that athletes, young and old, experience:

  • Ankle sprain
  • Plantar fasciitis
  • Tennis elbow
  • ACL injury
  • Meniscus tear
  • Shoulder dislocation
  • Rotator cuff tear
  • Stress fractures
  • Carpal tunnel syndrome
  • Distal radius fracture (also known as a wrist fracture)
  • Clavicle fractures

Orthopaedic injuries tend to come in two basic types: acute and overuse. Acute injuries are those that involve sudden trauma, such as the impact of a fall. These include sprains, strains, bruises, and fractures. Overuse injuries result from using a part of the body too much, causing a series of repeated small injuries.

When talking about orthopaedic injuries, it is important to remember that they affect adults and young people alike. Children who have growing bodies are more vulnerable than adults to injury. Children have growth plates, which are the areas of developing cartilage where bone growth occurs. Growth plates are weaker than the nearby ligaments and tendons. As a result, an injury that might result in a bruise or sprain for an adult can be a much more serious issue for the kids.

Children are by no means the only population at risk for athletic injuries. Baby boomers, born between 1946 and 1964, who sustain sports related injuries are dealing with “Boomeritis.” This nickname, coined by an orthopaedic surgeon, has been given to a group of orthopaedic injuries commonly seen in this age group. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) estimates that in 1998, Baby Boomers had more than one million sport-related injuries that required medical treatment.

Exercise is a key component of a healthy lifestyle, but Baby Boomers need to remember that their bodies are aging, and certain exercise and fitness programs bear greater risk for injury, particularly as we age. Statistics show that bicycling accidents are the most prevalent form of “Boomeritis,” with bike riding Baby Boomers dying from head-related bicycle injuries at a higher rate than children. Not surprisingly, less than half of Baby Boomers on bikes wear bike helmets.

Once an injury has occurred, the same guidelines apply for Boomers as for young athletes. R.I.C.E.—or Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation—remains a common treatment recommendation as we age.

By getting prompt treatment, you can often prevent a minor injury from turning into something more serious. There are some telltale signs that will warn you that it is time to take yourself or your young athlete to your orthopaedic surgeon:

  • The inability to play following an acute or sudden injury.
  • Decreased ability to play because of chronic or long-term complications following an injury.
  • Visible deformity of the athlete’s limb or joint, or severe pain.

Regardless of age, our bodies need to be warmed up and our muscles stretched before engaging in sports activities to help minimize the risk of injury and optimize performance. An efficient warm-up can include marching, walking in place while swinging your arms, or mimicking the sport you are about to do. The point is to get your heart rate up and your muscles warm and flexible, as cold muscles are more prone to injury.

Overuse injuries are largely preventable through thorough warm ups and stretching before sports activities and following the ten percent rule: Don’t increase your activity or intensity by more than ten percent per week. The bottom line when it comes to limiting athletic injury is being fit.

Dr. Erik Dorf joined Vail - Summit Orthopaedics in 2008. He specializes in general orthopaedic trauma with subspecialties in upper extremity surgery including hand, elbow and shoulder.