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Preventing and managing sports injuries

When it comes to sport, there is more to injury treatment than remembering ‘RICE’ – rest, ice, compression, elevation. Being able to identify an injury early and responding to warning signs is important, says Cairns Private Hospital orthopaedic specialist Associate Professor Michael Reid.

“Whether you’re an elite level athlete or weekend warrior, avoiding injury by developing good warm up routines, stretching protocols and monitoring workload are important steps to achieving a long sporting career,” he said.

Michael Reid has always been interested in sport and played high level rugby for many years, so it was no surprise that he blended his love of medicine and sport to become an orthopaedic surgeon with a sub-specialist interest in sports injuries. Dr Reid has looked after athletes from the Fremantle Dockers, Cairns Taipans, the English Rugby team and elite runners and cyclists.

He said evidence showed that doing set warm up programs can help prevent ligament injuries.

“For example the FIFA 11+ warm up program for kids in soccer has been shown to reduce the incidence of knee ligament injuries,” he said.

Dr Reid said while injury is more common in pivoting and contact sports like netball, AFL, soccer and rugby, these sports are also more popular so that contributed to the numbers.

“But the greater risk, and with exponential growth in Australia, is obesity – that’s an epidemic and carries greater risk than sport,” he said.

Cairns Private Hospital allied health services manager and physiotherapist Sarah Mellan said the most common sporting injuries she has seen in her career are ankle inversion injuries and knee injuries in the form of ruptured ACLs – anterior crucial ligaments – and torn menisci, which is cartilage of the knee joint, both of which usually involve pivoting or twisting actions. These knee injuries normally need prompt surgery once the initial swelling and tissue damage has settled.

“If you’re active and fit when you’re younger you may have more risk of injury but you lower the risk of diabetes and heart disease and other diseases from a sedentary lifestyle,” she said.

Dr Reid said a key with any sport injury is proper clinical assessment. If there’s significant knee swelling that occurs very quickly, there’s reasonable chance of significant damage that needs to be assessed promptly by a physiotherapist or orthopaedic specialist.

Common initial steps are rest, ice, compression, elevation – remembered with the acronym ‘RICE’ – together with appropriate analgesia, but do not ignore an injury.  Seek a professional opinion. Medical imaging such as x-rays, ultrasound scans, CT scans or MRIs may also be required to help with assessment and treatment.

Dr Reid said patients generally receive more prompt treatment in a private setting and while most patients he sees have private health insurance, a larger percentage are now self-funding their treatment because their physical well-being is so important to their quality of life and ability to enjoy sport.