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Exercise Injuries Below the Belt

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In contrast, non-contact injuries usually result from twisting the knee or deceleration. A “sudden plant and cut in one direction” or an awkward landing from a jump can damage the knee, Carpenter says. “Those are more typically injuries to the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL),” he says. “If someone comes in and no one hit them, they just turned sharply, the knee went ‘pop’ and swelled up, the majority of time, that’s an injury to the anterior cruciate ligament.”

Women are more at risk for ACL tears, but according to Doperak, doctors aren’t sure of the reasons. “There are a lot of theories, but no one really knows exactly why. Some people think it has to do with hormones, or the way [women] land when they jump, or anatomy.”

Strengthening the knee with targeted exercises and having good balance will help prevent ligament tears, according to Doperak, who is also a team physician for the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University. Bracing the knee might also help prevent injuries, Carpenter says.

Entire textbooks have been written about the extensive range of knee injuries, Doperak says. The bottom line: “You should be concerned about your knee injury if there’s knee swelling,” she says. “That would suggest that there’s something going on within the joint, like a ligament tear or a meniscal tear, or perhaps some sort of cartilage injury. You should probably see your doctor about that.”

Ankle and foot injuries

The lower leg is prone to many common injuries, including shin splints, calf strain, Achilles tendinitis, and sprains and fractures. 

Ankle sprains are common, Doperak says, causing swelling, bruising, and pain, most often on the outside of the foot. Often, these sprains can be treated at home with rest, icing and elevating the ankle, and compression, she says. After a serious ankle sprain, a physical therapy program can help rehabilitate the ankle, as well as protect against more sprains, she says. “Work on strength and balance because that can be protective against a future injury.”

Doctors also commonly see stress fractures in the foot, small cracks in the bone when feet repeatedly hit the ground. These stress fractures stem from overuse and can happen in distance runners and basketball players, among others. “Anytime someone starts to get pain in their foot, especially with activity, and it doesn’t seem to resolve, it’s probably worthwhile to have someone look at it and get an x-ray,” Doperak says.

After any kind of ankle or foot injury, “If you can stand within a day or two and put all your weight on your injured ankle or foot, it’s not likely that it’s that badly injured,” Carpenter says. But if you’re still struggling to bear weight on your leg after an ankle or foot injury, see a doctor, he says.

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