Exercise. Exercise. Exercise. It's now impossible to avoid the message that physical activity is essential for good health. But while working up a sweat is undoubtedly good for the heart, it's certainly not hazard-free. There are some 29 million sports injuries each year in England and Wales alone, according to Sheffield University research. One third of these are serious enough to result in medical treatment or to affect someone's normal activities. We look at some of the risks of taking part in the nation's favorite sports - and tell you how to avoid them.
Football is responsible for one quarter of all sports injuries in the UK and an estimated 10 per cent of all injuries treated in hospital emergency departments are soccer-related. The main problems are muscle strains in the groin or lower limbs, ligament sprains and cartilage damage (usually in the knees). Although it's very rare, the biggest cause of death in soccer is a collision with the goal post.
The risk of a serious injury while playing rugby is three times that of soccer. A New Zealand study of over 350 male and female rugby players found that, on average, a player would get injured once every 10 games. Sprains and strains are the most common injury and the tackle is the phase of play in which most injuries occur (40 per cent of all injuries), followed by rucks (17 per cent) and mauls (12 per cent). 13 per cent of all injuries are the result of foul play.
A hockey player can expect to be injured once in every 45 games, although goalkeepers are less at risk because of their protective clothing. The most common injuries are lacerations (caused by being hit by the stick or ball or by a collision between players) and damaged ligaments, especially of the ankle, knee and elbow.
Damaged knee ligaments are the most common problem, according to BUPA statistics based on insurance claims. Thumb injuries are the next most likely, followed by a fractured ankle, a fractured tibia or fibula (bones between the knee and ankle), a fractured wrist and concussion or another head injury.
The most popular summer racket sport, tennis isn't without risk. Injuries are common to the shoulder, knee, ankle, back and wrist. Tennis elbow is a particular problem: half of all players develop this painful inflammation caused by over-use of the muscles around the elbow joint.
Because the water supports your bodyweight, the dangers of swimming are generally low (although drowning is more of a risk in the sea). The main problem is probably the cleanliness of the water. The biggest hygiene-related risks are an upset stomach, rashes, an eye infection, swimmer's ear (an infection of the inner-ear) and, even more commonly, athlete's foot and verrucas.
Running / Jogging
The chances of you dying suddenly from a heart attack are remote, perhaps one in a million. (And if you had a serious but undiagnosed heart problem you'd probably have died soon anyway.) You're much more likely to suffer from muscle sprains and strains in the legs, ankles and feet. A study of 46 club-standard runners preparing for the London Marathon found most injuries were located below the knee and that the calf was the major problem area. Runner's knee occurs when repeated stress causes inflammation and softening of the cartilage under the kneecap.
Avoiding sports injuries
Here's how to cut your chances of becoming just another unfortunate health statistic:
Always warm up
Prepare your body for any sport with light cardiovascular work and stretching.
Build up your endurance
Fatigue is a major cause of soft tissue injuries, especially towards the end of a game.
Boost your strength
You don't need the physique of a bodybuilder but strength is necessary to help your muscles to cope with loads without tearing.
Use the right equipment
Footwear is crucial but so is the correct protective gear for your sport.
Learn correct techniques
Faulty or inefficient techniques can cause problems. In contact sports, make sure the game is properly refereed.
Take it slowly
Not allowing your body to adjust to the increased forces imposed on it can lead to injuries.
How to treat an injury
The standard treatment for fresh joint, muscle, tendon and ligament injuries is RICE: Rest, to prevent further trauma; Ice, to reduce internal bleeding and ease pain; Compression (with an elasticated bandage), to reduce swelling; Elevation, to reduce the amount of blood flowing to the injured area. A non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (e.g. ibuprofen) can also relieve pain and inflammation.