Athletes face a variety of challenges during games. But one many may never see coming is an injury.
The most common injuries are bruises and contusions, which are not as serious. Chris Kuenze, assistant professor in the Department of Kinesiology at Michigan State University, said more acute injuries include concussions, ACL tears, ankle sprains and other ankle-related injuries.
Kuenze researches ACL injuries and what happens after ACL reconstruction, working recently with the MSU hockey and basketball teams.
Injuries can happen in a number of ways. One common cause is overuse. This is a result of athletes either doing too much activity, doing an activity too often, doing an activity that is too intense, or a combination of all three. College athletes are more at risk for the combination when they are mid-season and have a lot going on.
Overuse injuries may not only create physical challenges for athletes, but also psychological ones, according to an overuse study done in 2012 by a team including Tracey Covassinan, a certified athletic trainer at Michigan State and a member of the Department of Kinesiology.
“The thought is that it can sort of build up over time and the workload gets too high or too big. The risk of injury starts to increase along with it,” Covassinan said. “The risk is a little higher in things like muscle injuries (hamstring, quad, etc.), but there are some studies that suggest they can be risk factors for ligament injuries like ACL.”
Injuries such as these can still happen with proper training. High-level athletes are more likely to tear an ACL or have a related injury than the rest of the population.
“Something like 85 to 90 percent of ACL injuries happens during sports whether it is practice or a game, but during some form of sport,” Kuenze said. “It seems that the higher the level and the more intense the level, the riskier it is for you.”
Several members of Michigan State’s basketball team have had similar injuries. Transfer graduate-student Ben Carter suffered an ACL injury on Jan. 30, 2016, while at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Other Spartans like Gavin Schiiling, who suffered a non-contact injury to his right knee during practice before MSU’s preseason kickoff in 2016, and freshman Miles Bridges who recently returned to the game after dealing with an ankle injury that occurred after their No. 4 game against Duke.
Once injured, it can take extensive rehabilitation and training for an athlete to get back in the game.
“It’s pretty tough. It’s a little dependent of the injury. So when you tear a ligament you can either stretch it (first-degree sprain) or you can tear it (second or third-degree),” Kuenze said. “Usually with a first-degree sprain, athletic trainers and physical therapists will try to do strength training and movement training to get people to move strongly again. Also, do balance and proprioception, which is interacting with your environment and maintaining stability.”
When it comes to a second or third-degree ligament tear, recovery becomes more difficult. For competitive athletes, it will most likely result in surgery.
“The primary thing I can say is that if you’ve had a previous injury, make sure you rehabilitate fully before you go back to sports,” Kuenze said. “So having a previous injury puts you at risk for injury after the fact, so make sure you’re actually ready before you actually do that. I think monitoring training, especially for high-level athletes, is important. Doing too much and over training to the point where your body can’t recover isn’t a good idea.”