Ocean Gildee

Totally stoked about getting back in the sports arena after break? Not so fast!

Jumping right back into a workout routine or new practice schedule could mean putting yourself at risk for injuries that could hurt you and your team for the rest of the season. We talk to the experts so your college athletic career -- or intramural season -- doesn’t get sidelined.

Most Common Injuries and Causes

Dr. Doug Messina of Carolina Sports Medicine in Wilmington, N.C., says the five most common injuries he encounters with college athletes are ankle sprains, partial tears, knee sprains, torn ligaments and shoulder injuries. And the biggest culprits? According to Dr. Messina, overuse and poor mechanics top the list. “If you repetitively overuse a joint, it won’t function properly,” he explains.

Even though many college athletes tend to skimp on proper rest time between workouts and competitions, Dr. Messina says his most important advice is to have a proper conditioning and warmup routine before taking the field or court. “You can’t just walk out on the field and play at a high level,” he says. “Tightness of muscles can lead to a pulled hamstring, for example.”

Stretch It Out

Stretching sessions are necessary for collegiate athletes -- but which exercises are best? We turned to certified personal trainer Christine Barcavage for some great stretching moves to prevent common sports injuries:

Prevent Ankle Sprains


Begin in a squat position on your toes, with your hands on the floor in front of you. Straighten your legs and roll your toes forward so your toenails are touching the floor. Next, roll your ankles in a full circle, first sideways, then away from each other. When you’ve almost completed the ankle circle, you should end up balancing on your toes once again. Do these ankle circles at least 10 times during your warm-up.


If you’re prone to this type of injury, consider wrapping your ankles in a wide non-elastic tape.

Prevent Knee Injuries


Sit in a pike position, with your legs together in front of you and as straight as they can be. Point your toes and lean your body forward, stretching your arms to your ankles and attempting to touch your nose to your knees. Hold for 15 to 20 seconds. You should feel this mostly in the backs of your knees and hamstrings. 


If your knees (or any other joint or muscle for that matter) start to feel sore while playing your sport, listen to your body’s signals and give yourself a rest.

Prevent Shoulder Dislocations


Sitting on the floor with your knees bent up to your chest, place your arms behind you with fingers pointing backward and your pinkies almost touching. Slide your body forward, keeping your hands in place, until you feel your shoulders stretch. Hold this position for 10 seconds to ensure that your muscles aren’t too tight to play.


Be careful not to overstretch your shoulders. Dr. Messina says most dislocations and rotator cuff injuries occur because the muscles holding your shoulder in place are too stretched out.

Prevent Achilles Tendon Tears


Sit in a squat position on flat feet with your hands on the floor in front of you. Straighten your legs and lean forward, keeping your heels on the floor. Hold for 15 to 20 seconds. This should give your Achilles tendons and calf muscles a good stretch.


Ice is always a good treatment to reduce swelling and pain in your calves and Achilles tendons.

Prevent Shin Splints


There is no stretch for shin splints, but Barcavage recommends starting with low-impact workouts and working your way up week by week. Try not to engage in any “pounding” activities early in the season. Wait until you’re back in shape to do things like plyometrics.


To keep shin splints away, aim to stay within a healthy weight range for your height. The heavier you are, the worse your shins will feel because they can only support so much weight. Many athletes experience shin splints when they’ve recently put on pounds, either from fat or new muscle. Sometimes using elastic compression bandages can help with shin splint pain, but there is no real cure or treatment -- which is what makes this the ultimate worst injury.


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Health - How to Prevent Sports Injuries