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The most common sources of injury and how to prevent them

If we knew all the factors for preventing injuries, then the A&E departments at hospitals would be empty. Injuries occur in a wide range of situations, from freak accidents to unfortunate mis-steps. While some injuries are a total surprise, or the result of variables beyond our control, many injuries can be prevented with some common sense. Of course if everyone used some common sense to go round, then we wouldn't have the Darwin Awards. However, that may be small consolation for those waiting to be treated for that broken leg or the head wound gushing pints of blood.

In sports, wearing appropriate gear can make a huge difference in protecting against common injuries.

Causes of injury

There are two types of injury, internal and external.

An internal injury, often the result of strain or overuse, can tear muscles or ligaments. Left untreated, a relatively small amount of damage can turn into a severe and chronic ailment.

Swollen ankle showing bruising and the application of an ice pack

External injuries are generally the result of an impact, such as being run over by a car, or falling from a ladder. In sport an external injury is usually the result of an impact - being hit with something, or hitting something. This could be striking the ground in a fall or colliding with a post, which can lead to dislocations, concussions or fractures.

Image of a leg in a cast next to a set of crutches

In winter sports, injuries are often the result of losing balance on a slippery or icy surface. But even without a major spill, the body can be accruing damage, and the knees work extremely hard in sports where they have to perform a lot of shock absorbing.

Skiing can be particularly hard on the knees with all that bouncing over irregular bumps - injuries can be caused by overuse of a joint or muscle. Flips during freestyle skiing, which can involve landing in difficult conditions amid the stress of being timed, can take a toll on the body, particularly the knees.

In bike racing the force of twists, turns and G-forces can place a lot of strain on the knees. In dirt bike racing, knee injuries from crashes, together with tears and ruptures are top of the list.

A&E: Waits are getting longer

Mainstream media such as The Guardian, have often reported that Accident & Emergency departments at hospitals are generally struggling to cope with the numbers of patients they receive. This situation is not helped by patients who turn to A&E when they could use another service. A&E exists to treat severe injuries or illness.

The BBC reported last year that A&E departments were struggling to treat patients within the target four-hour window. It has been suggested that the need for accident treatment is so oversubscribed that patients have had to wait in corridors, being treated in tiny side rooms, or that ambulances even struggle to find a place to drop off patients.

Image of a patient lying on a bed being checked by two doctors

It's not a happy picture. While it is very likely most A&E departments are doing their absolute best, given a choice most people should want to avoid A&E.

A recent report on NHS figures stated that more than 2 million people visited A&E in May 2016, and it went on to say that the long-term trend was of rising admissions. The report indicated that A&E attendance is up 3 per cent, so those queues for treatment are not going away any time soon.

The environment

Extreme temperatures can lead to injury: hypothermia in very cold conditions, and dehydration when it's very hot. The stress of being in a very hot or cold environments can make someone more vulnerable to injury, from coping with the harshness of the situation, together with the fatigue that sets in when the body is being taxed beyond its limits.

Snow and ice present fairly obvious dangers in terms of an unstable environment. When hypothermia manifests (when the body is at an abnormally low temperature) the victim can often seem sleepy and confused whilst fumbling around. This can increase the risk of injury from falls. Someone suffering from hypothermia could insist they just want to lie down and sleep. If they do so, it is quite likely they may never wake up. If someone is chilled having been caught in the rain, or following heavy sweating, the temperature doesn't need to be that low for hypothermia to set in.

Image of a snowboarder on the slopes pulling a trick with a mountain view beyond

Dehydration can also cause disorientation as the victim may feel faint, nauseated or present a rapid heartbeat and low blood pressure. Someone in this state needs plenty of fluids, perhaps with appropriate electrolytes added. Coconut water is popular, because the solutes in it are similar to those needed by the body.

It is important to take precautions, and stock up on appropriate snacks and drinks before attempting to perform tasks in extreme temperatures. If undertaking an activity in icy conditions, then get prepared with protective clothing, and whatever equipment is necessary to neutralise these external, hostile factors. This is important not just to avoid injury, but to ensure your very survival.

Reducing the risk of injury

Prevention is always better than recovery, so don't take unnecessary risks. Racing through that moguls course to win the world championship could lead to great rewards, but getting on a shaky table to change a light bulb is not likely to do the same. When a simple accident could mean huge medical bills or months of physiotherapy, climbing up on that ledge for a bit of DIY just isn't worth it. Wait and get some help.

Demanding sports present a different kind of injury risk, because they often embody some form of danger, but this is balanced out by the exhilaration of the sport.

Heads obviously require protection in the form of a safety approved helmet. Eye wear can also assist with protecting sight. The knees are a vulnerable part of the body, as they usually bear the brunt of large external forces. In water sports, for example, the knee's anterior (front) cruciate (cross) ligament (ACL) is frequently damaged. Other sports where the knee is placed under stress include wakeboarding, speedway and motocross, dirt biking and of course skiing and snowboarding.

ACL injuries generally account for around 40 per cent of all extreme sports injuries. ACL injury can be minimised by wearing a sports knee brace. If injury does occur, a sports knee brace can play a helpful role in providing the support necessary for healing.

Diagram of a torn anterior cruciate ligament

Knees need help

To ensure flexibility, freedom of movement, and yet great stability when needed, the knee is a highly complex joint involving a number of ligaments that can be injured, along with cartilage and meniscus pads. In addition to the ACL, there is the PCL (posterior, or back, cruciate ligament, the medial (inside) collateral ligament (MCL) and the lateral (outside) collateral ligament (LCL).

Diagram of the human knee

Snowboarders are liable to injure the ACL in landing after jumps. Beginner skiers, who can fall and twist their legs, are susceptible to MCL injuries. Learning to control leg rotation in a slippery ski environment is a major challenge for many novice skiers. In wakeboarding, huge forces pass through the knee as the rider hits the water. In biking, there is a danger of overextending the knee. In any sport involving dirt bikes, ACL damage often occurs during a rapid change in direction when the leg is extended and solidly planted.

Tearing or even straining any part of the knee's ligament system can happen in an instant, but the healing process could mean many months of pain and restricted movement. In severe cases, reconstructive surgery may be required. Wearing gear to support the knee, such as an appropriate knee brace, could mean the difference between a minor injury and needing help to get out of bed in the foreseeable future.