Fall sports season is back, and from middle school football fumbles to collegiate soccer sprains, athletes of all shapes and sizes are susceptible to injury. Luckily, with the right information and guidance, athletes can help prevent many sports injuries in the ways of play and practice.

Throughout Northwest Georgia, Harbin Clinic physicians serve as team physicians for various local schools. From preventing injuries at practice to evaluating them at games, these doctors make sure players are always playing at their best.

From Harbin Clinic Orthopedics & Sports Medicine Rome, Drs. Mark Floyd, Christopher Piller and Brad Bushnell work together as team physicians for Berry College, as well as the Minor League Baseball team, the Rome Braves. Additionally, Dr. Piller serves as the team physician for Rome High School, Dr. Bushnell serves as the team physician for Trion and Chattooga High Schools, and Dr. Floyd serves as team physician for Armuchee High School.

Orthopedics & Sports Medicine Cartersville’s Dr. Jason Andersen serves as Woodland High School’s team physician, while Family Medicine Adairsville’s Dr. Robert Sullivan serves as team physician for Adairsville High School.

In order to help players and parents understand the best ways for athletes to stay safe this season, these orthopedic experts have compiled a list of five common sports injuries and prevention tactics.

1. General Strain or Sprain

A strain is an injury to a muscle or tendon, while a sprain is an injury to a ligament. Symptoms can include pain, swelling, bruising and even an inability to use the affected joint. These ailments can come in various forms, and according to Dr. Sullivan, they are the most common sports-related injuries.

“To prevent strains or sprains during any kind of physical activity, you should always use proper stretching techniques both before and after the exercise,” Dr. Sullivan says. “Another important step is to always use well-fitting equipment.”

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2. ACL Injury

An ACL injury is the overstretching or tearing of the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in the knee. In order to prevent ACL tears, Dr. Piller has helped implement programs with coaches and athletic trainers at local schools. So far, the teams have seen positive and significant results.

“Different types of exercises and drills help develop better leg strength, balance, core muscle strength and coordination to avoid getting into a situation where the knee could collapse and cause a ligament to tear,” Dr. Piller says. “These ACL prevention programs that we do throughout the off-season and pre-season seem to have had significant improvement.”

Other ways to prevent this injury include practicing proper jumping and landing techniques, as well as conditioning during the off-season in order to maintain strong muscles and ligaments.

3. Overuse Injury

An overuse injury occurs when someone has engaged in excessive physical activity in a given time frame, resulting in muscle or joint injury. An overuse injury occurs when an athlete is unfamiliar with their sport’s specific techniques and training.

One example of an overuse injury is tendinitis, or inflammation of a tendon, and is the result of a repeated, minor injury of the tendon. Dr. Andersen says that injuries such as tendinitis are usually avoidable.

“With proper technique, you can avoid overuse injuries such as tendinitis. You need to have a proper warm-up, stretch after exercise and always take time for a good cool down,” he says.

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4. Concussion

A concussion is a minor type of traumatic brain injury caused by a violent jarring or shaking that results in a disturbance of brain function. The signs and symptoms include: confusion or inability to concentrate or think clearly, drowsiness or difficulty waking up, headaches, temporary loss of consciousness, nausea and vomiting, and seeing flashing lights.

In recent years, various research has been focused on reducing the risk of concussion in sports, especially in football. While there is no way to eliminate the risk altogether, many studies have provided insight on more effective prevention methods.

According to Dr. Piller, some of the best concussion prevention involves teaching players proper tackling techniques and strengthening the upper body.

“If you keep your head up and lean with your shoulder, you’re not as likely to have a concussion or a neck injury. Also, strengthening the upper body and neck help the neck absorb more energy so the head is not shaking around after a collision, causing the brain to get rattled. These have been major preventative measures, and we’ve seen concussions drop significantly. ”

5. Heat-Related Illness

A heat-related illness occurs after environmental exposure to heat, ranging from problems such as heat exhaustion to heat stroke. These illnesses can be fatal, especially in the humidity of the South. So, physicians have worked to inform coaches and athletic trainers on the ways to prevent overheating, including avoiding extreme conditions and not having extended practice in extreme heat.

Dr. Sullivan adds that athletes should stay away from foods and drinks that dehydrate the body.

“An athlete should always be well-hydrated, including prior to participation and throughout practice or competition. Soda and energy drinks are never appropriate for hydration. In fact, they can be fatal,” he says.

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Prevention is an important part of preparing for the upcoming season, but Dr. Andersen says that some injuries will simply happen.

“Sometimes, it is just the nature of sports. You can’t always look back and say an injury was avoidable, because sometimes that is not the case. That is where myself and my fellow Harbin Clinic team physicians come in.”

Harbin Clinic Orthopedics & Sports Medicine in both Rome and Cartersville offer a Monday Morning Walk-In Sports Clinic for players who were injured over the weekend. The clinic is open to all athletes and active individuals, whether you sprained your knee on a morning jog or twisted an ankle at dance class.

Patients who arrive between 7 and 8 a.m. are guaranteed to be seen by an orthopedic specialist, no appointment is necessary. X-rays, full examinations and recovery plans are all part of the sports clinic experience.

For more information, visit harbinclinic.com/sports-medicine.