7 Serious Injuries You Can Avoid

You don't want to know me.

If we meet on the job, it probably means you're in a world of hurt. I'm an ER doctor. I see the worst that can happen to a guy: the carnage inflicted by a multicar pileup, the devastation of a heart attack, the mess and the mayhem behind the evening news lead-in.

But I also see injuries that, while less Tarantinoesque, stick with me for other reasons—bones snapped on rock-hopping mountain-bike rides, ligaments shredded on soccer fields, tendons ruptured while boarding. When I see a man in his 30s who's torn up his knee playing hoops, or a 26-year-old who's wrecked his shoulder after imploding off a mogul, I empathize. Guys like us—we need to be in the game. We need to take on the biggest rapid, the steepest slope, the fiercest opponent. These are the activities—not our day jobs—that fuel our fires. I'd never recommend giving it up—the risk, the adrenaline rush. But I would advise you to do everything you can to minimize your chances of injury so you can stay in the game... and win. So here are seven of the most common sports injuries I see in the ER. Read on to learn how to keep from being yet another forced retiree from the games that make life worth living.

Already injured? Try these 10 quick ways to ward off pain.

Wrist or Elbow Fracture

Case study: 33-year-old male skier presents with severe wrist pain and deformity. Injury sustained while skiing moguls. Patient crashed over ski tips, using right hand to break fall.

A fall onto an outstretched hand—or "foosh" as we call it—causes ER visits as frequently as the Kardashians cause paparazzi pileups. Skiers, snowboarders, skateboarders, and roller-bladers are the usual victims, although pretty much any sport that has you moving fast with hands free will do. Boom, over you go and out go the hands to break the fall. Wrists and elbows are what break instead.

I've fooshed. Within days of moving to Colorado after my residency training, I went mountain biking on some tough terrain. I was in over my head, and sure enough, it wasn't long before I was flying over the handlebar. Despite all my knowledge of anatomy, what did I do? Stuck out my hand to break my fall. What'd I get? A gash on my palm and a fracture that kept me off the bike for months.

While you're fooshing, all those mechanical and vector forces you create have to go somewhere. The position of your hand when it makes contact with the ground determines where those forces will focus and where the injury will occur. Fall forward onto your hand, as I did, and you risk breaking your wrist. The next thing you know, you're in a cast for 4 to 6 weeks, followed by physical therapy. Or fall backward on your hand with your arm outstretched, and it'll be your elbow that fractures. Depending on which bone you damage, you'll find yourself in either a sling or a long-arm cast for three to 6 weeks.

Discover six uncommon cures for everyday ailments.

ER Avoidance

Roll with it. Instinct rules in the milliseconds between the start of a forward fall and its painful conclusion. Make sure your instinct is for tumbling rather than applying the hands-out brake. Once you're airborne, tuck chin to chest and try to land on the back of your shoulder. Then keep rolling. Use your leading arm to guide the tumble; use the other arm to protect your head. Practice on grass or carpet until it's hardwired.

Stay balanced. Your ability to regain your balance quickly can prevent a little wobble from becoming a crash. To improve your reaction time, practice with dynamic agility drills involving direction changes at progressively higher speeds. You'll need a buddy for this. Mark out two 5-by-5-yard squares. One of you is the rabbit, who initiates quick-cutting moves in one square. The other is the fox, who mirrors those moves in the other square. Do 4 to 6 reps of 15 seconds each.

Armor up. You may feel like a dork wearing a helmet and wrist guards while skateboarding or snowboarding, but will the strangers you're trying to impress visit you in the hospital? No.

Stay centered. Proprioception—the ability to sense the position and orientation of your body and its parts—slumps with age, raising your risk of falling. Studies show that staying fit may slow the process. Hit the gym to avoid hitting the dirt.
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