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Sport Specific Injuries: Lacrosse

Did you know that lacrosse is North America’s oldest team sport? Its aboriginal inventors played ceremonial games that lasted for two or three straight days. Thankfully, modern lacrosse games only last for a couple of hours, and today it is America’s fastest growing team sport. If you or your child is interested in trying out for the team, you’ll need to know what injury risks you face and what you can do to help prevent them.

Although boys’ lacrosse is classified as a full-contact sport (intentional body-to-body contact is prohibited in girls’ lacrosse), injury rates for lacrosse are much lower than in other full-contact sports, such as hockey, boxing, and football. In fact, according to the American Journal of Sports Medicine, most injuries involve contusions, abrasions, and sprains/strains. For both boys’ and girls’ lacrosse players, the most commonly reported injury is an ankle sprain.

This is great news for lacrosse players, parents, and coaches. Here are some common lacrosse injuries and what you can do to help protect yourself against them.

Ankle sprain – Sometimes a sprained ankle just can’t be prevented, but they are more likely to occur during a game rather than in practice because of the elevated intensity level. Make sure your footwear fits properly and has appropriate traction for your playing surface. Include agility drills and plyometrics into your workouts, and be sure to stay in shape even in the off-season (fatigue can lead to sloppiness and slower reactions, thus increasing the likelihood of an ankle sprain). Finally, you can always add extra protection to your ankles by using athletic tape or an ankle brace.
Muscle strains – Muscles lose flexibility when you are dehydrated, so make hydration a priority, especially when playing in the heat. To insure your muscles are flexible enough for the demands of lacrosse, make stretching a vital part of your workouts. In addition, balanced strength training will go a long way to preventing injuries.
Shin splints – Shin splints are a term for pain in the medial tibial muscles (the muscles of the front lower leg). Shin splints occur when you increase your activity level too much, too soon, and your shin muscles cannot cope. By staying fit year round (rather than waiting for the season to get in shape) and only increasing your activity level by 10% or so each week, you will go a long way in avoiding shin splints.
Bruises, scrapes, & cuts – These injuries usually seem pretty minor, but they still need the proper medical attention. Clean all scrapes and cuts with soap and water to prevent infection, and change any bandages often. Reduce the swelling and pain of a bruise by placing an ice pack (or plastic baggie containing ice cubes) on the bruise for 20 minutes, several times a day. Be sure to protect the bruise with wraps, tape, pads, etc. to reduce the risk of re-injury while the bruise is still healing.

Unfortunately, even the safest sports do carry some risk for more serious injury:

Concussion – A concussion is a brain injury caused by any blow to the head that imparts enough force to knock the brain against the skull. Everyone should learn to recognize the signs of concussion (see my blog post on the subject to learn more). Any player who is suspected of having a concussion should not return to sports until they have visited their doctor and have been cleared to do so.
Commotio Cordis – A very rare occurrence but one which everyone should be aware of, commotio cordis occurs when a blow to the chest (typically from a ball) causes a stoppage or other disruption of the heart’s rhythm. Because the condition is fatal if normal rhythm cannot be established, the best treatment is with an automated external defibrillator (AED). An AED should be present at all practices and games, and all coaches and trainers should be educated in its proper usage.

At its core, lacrosse is a game of finesse and skill rather than brute force, but nevertheless, injuries do sometimes occur. Learn how to protect yourself so you can experience all the game has to offer. Keep moving, my friends!

– Alan

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