Injuries are part and parcel of playing sports, with tennis elbow, torn ligaments and back pains among the most common injuries explored in TV shows or highlighted in the media. But how often do sporting injuries really occur, and how severe can the effects of these injuries be?
Football and basketball have recently been ranked as being the most dangerous sports in a survey conducted by Golfsupport in 2020. When respondents were asked to choose which sports they’d been injured in whilst playing, 71% chose football, crowning the sport as the most dangerous of all.
Basketball was deemed the second most dangerous sport in the UK, with 69% sustaining an injury whilst playing. It is no surprise that injuries will sometimes occur in high-speed, active, close contact sports, but perhaps more surprising, is that 63% of people cited their injury was the direct result of “someone else’s carelessness”. More worryingly though, is the statistic that respondents, in three of every five of these cases, sustained injuries that required a visit to the hospital or their local GP.
From beginner sportspeople to professionals, sporting injuries can occur at any stage of play, and twenty-two year-old UEA student Aaron Campbell has experienced the effects of sporting injuries first-hand. Aaron plays for the UEA Men’s Basketball Club and has played the sport since the age of ten, playing in the ABL and EABL in college. He has suffered two serious injuries in his time playing basketball: one in college, and one during his time at UEA.
On his first injury, Aaron said: “It was my first season at my new college, it was about halfway through the year. I went up for a dunk and I just came down funny. I can’t remember specifically the type of injury it was, it was some kind of fractured ligament. Since then, my knee has not been the same.”
“I was out for the season. I got back into basketball just before I started my final year of college.”
Although the physical impact of an injury is obvious, being unable to play can have a mental impact as well.
Aaron explained, “I was playing at a high level, this was just before I started to jump into an elite level. It was tough because I was like, ‘I know I can be an impact on my team.’ I was also applying to American schools at the time, I was looking for scholarships, but, obviously, I wasn’t going to have a tape that season. That was very impactful because the dream of America was out of the window.”
Luckily, as Aaron went to a sports college when he had his first injury, he was in a good position to recover. “Although my first injury did affect my injury proneness going on, it would have been worse had I not had all the support staff at my college. They managed to not only get me back to where I was, but probably to an even better level because I lost a bit more weight, I ended up playing my best that next season.”
Much more recently, however, Aaron tore his MCL. “I remember the day very clearly. My friend said ‘you want to come play some ball?’ I was just shooting around, went up for a layup, came down funny. And I know when I fall, I know when something’s not right, and I was like something’s very not right here. I went to the doctor’s, it took a while but once I got an MRI they were like ‘yeah, you’ve torn your MCL, but not just torn it, it completely came off’.”
Aaron was originally scheduled to have surgery in early April, to physically reattach his MCL, but because of lockdown, all non-essential surgery was cancelled. “I think in early September I had an appointment with the doctor, and obviously we’d been locked down– I’d only been doing low-intensity workouts at home, I wasn’t doing any major jumping. I wasn’t really playing any basketball, so I wasn’t really tracking how well or bad my knee was doing. Especially because with this injury, if you’re not doing anything intense, you don’t feel it.”
“When I had that exam in September, he said that in general, your knee is a lot stronger. So I just said, ok, if I’m going to come back to the team I’m going to join the development squad because I don’t feel like I’m going to be able to play at any sort of level. Over those few months I quickly noticed myself improving again, just getting back to it.”
“Obviously I’ve had a few moments of like ‘huh’ but if ever come down on it at all I’ll just sit out. I wouldn’t say I’m 100%.”
Before his injuries, Aaron was a slasher, focusing on cuts to the basket, but now he has more of an all-round game. “I had a decent midrange shot, I’d be at the high post and I’d either take it or slash to the rim. But coming out of the [first] injury I’d definitely rounded up my game, I’d worked on like court vision, I spent time off the court watching film. I became better with the ball in terms of handling, passing, stuff like that.”
To help avoid any more knee injuries, Aaron is cautious whilst playing, but also makes sure to stretch before and after as well, stressing its importance despite suggesting he hadn’t been taught about it early on. “We weren’t taught the advantages of stretching, warming up, cooling down, things like that. You were just kind of like ‘let’s go straight to the sport’ and you thought you were indestructible, then obviously later in life, it comes back to you.”
Stretching before exercising makes the body more pliable, helping prevent injury. It is important for athletes, especially younger ones, to learn its importance so they aren’t adversely affected by persistent injuries later in their careers.
“I didn’t know about stretching until college, but by that point– yeah, stretching helps, and I wouldn’t not stretch now, but a lot of the damage was already done by that point, and I was already a veteran.”
Recovering from a sports injury looks different for every individual, and though some may experience a quicker physical recovery, mental recovery is also an important factor for consideration. Aaron’s experience in recovery has been a mostly positive one, but others aren’t as lucky, with an injury such as an MCL tear potentially ending the careers of professional players and losing them huge amounts of salary.
Therefore, whilst recovery methods continue to improve as new research is conducted and new technologies are developed, it is important that athletes competing at youth level are better educated on simple preventative measures, such as stretching, warm up and cool down techniques. Time out playing the sport that they love is vital to young prospects looking to be scouted, so prevention of an injury is always better than a cure.