Boisterous backyard barbecues, the wafting smell of charcoal, the sizzle of juicy hamburgers on the well-tended grill, family and friends getting together for a relaxing cookout: Ah-h-h, the perfect setting for an impromptu backyard sporting event like badminton.
After indulging in plenty of food and possibly an alcoholic beverage or two, the challenge to play a sport like badminton is hard to pass up when the team spirit and kids are involved.
To physical therapists, this is also the scene of many a weekend sports injury!
Picture this: You are sprawled in one of those low-slung fold-up lawn chairs, the kind that is difficult to extricate yourself from after you’ve sat there for more than 5 minutes. Then, you get the call to action, as someone strolls over and thrusts a badminton racquet at you.
You wrestle yourself out of the chair, discovering that your buttocks have gone numb. Looking down at your feet, you think, “these sandals will do, sneakers are far too overrated as sports equipment”…Wrong!
You bounce the birdie on your racquet a few times, then square off for your first serve over the net. As your 7-year-old opponent takes aim on your serve, you are surprised by the speed and direction of the return. At this point, two things happen. First, your competitive youthful brain says “let’s get over to that birdie fast.” So you lunge forward with your left leg, pushing off forcefully with your right. The second thing to happen is you realize that the grass is wet and your sandals have no traction! The lunge turns into the splits and a variety of body parts now start griping.
The most common of these resulting injuries is to the knee. It ranges from a simple twist (painful but very common) to torn cartilage (torn meniscus) or more serious still, torn ligaments (anterior cruciate ligaments, posterior cruciate ligaments or collateral ligaments).
Let’s look at what these different knee injuries mean.
The most common, a simple twist, means that the muscles supporting your knee have become strained from a quick stretch. The alignment of the femur (thighbone) to the tibia (shinbone) and fibula (small bone on the outside of your lower leg) can become twisted and out of balance during a strain, making the knee difficult to move easily. It may be painful to stand, and your knee may swell. Without seeking medical advice, it is impossible to tell if a knee is simply twisted or if a more serious injury has occurred, so applying ice and visiting a doctor are recommended.
When cartilage is involved it is usually referred to as a tear in the shock-absorbing structure called the “meniscus.” Because of the anatomical design of the knee, the medial or inside meniscus is the more common one to tear. Immediate pain and a locking or catching feeling when you move your knee characterize this. In some cases, cartilage does heal if the tear is small, but if the problem persists, surgery may be needed. Again, applying ice and visiting a doctor are the right steps to take.
A significant ligament tear is usually more serious because ligaments, which have a very limited blood supply, can’t heal themselves. A ligament is a strap-like structure that attaches two bones together. In the case of your knee, the medial (inside) and lateral (outside) collateral ligaments keep the shin from bending side to side on the thigh. The anterior and posterior cruciate ligaments prevent the shin from sliding forward and backward on the thigh. Ligament tears result in an unstable knee and require bracing and/or surgery.
These ligament injuries are commonplace in football and basketball players but are seen in backyard sports as well.
In all these cases, ice, crutches and a trip to the doctor for a diagnosis are recommended. Usually, a physical therapist next comes into the picture.
Can any of these knee injuries be avoided? The answer is yes! First, make sure you stay fit and flexible. A daily routine of yoga or stretches keeps the body nimble and flexible by allowing your joints to move through their full range of motion. In the case of a sudden slip, if your body has the range of motion required, it won’t suddenly tighten and twist to try to protect you, actually causing more injury.
Always wear appropriate footwear for the recreational activity you are doing. Good traction and support go a long way.
Lastly, do a few stretches to get the blood moving after you’ve been sitting for a while. A sudden burst of movement after inactivity or rest doesn’t allow your muscles to get ready for activity and they will usually let you know of their dismay.
Remember that recreational sports should be enjoyable. Be fit, be smart.