It's Memorial Day weekend, so you join your friends in a pick-up game of volleyball. But soon the relaxing game has turned painful. It's not the competition that hurts, it's your ankle. Worse, you're still wincing days later. Unfortunately, sports injuries are all too common for recreational athletes over the holiday weekend. Of all reported injuries, the most common is the ankle sprain, which ranges from 15 to 30 percent of all sports injuries.

And don't think only aging baby boomers are at risk for an unexpected sprain. Even if you're in your 40s, 30s, or your 20s, your activity level has most likely changed quite a bit since high school. After all, the origin of many twinges and pains is the overuse of normally under-utilized muscles. Even work out fanatics may end the day with an ache after trying out a new sport. Read on for more information to keep in mind as you run around this Memorial Day weekend.


Minor soreness usually stems not from accident or trauma, but from some combination of overuse and poor flexibility. With older athletes, joints as well as tissue have become less elastic over time. That said, the fundamental cause of most real injuries is previous damage in the same area. When it comes to ankle damage, the word "sprain" refers to the complete or partial tearing of the ligaments in the ankle. The most immediate symptom is swelling, a sign that torn blood vessels are leaking fluid.

The usual prescription for an ankle sprain is RICE: Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation. This process allows white blood cells into the area that is causing inflammation and starts the healing process. Know that even the most simple sprain can take up to eight to 12 weeks to heal. A study in the journal Foot & Ankle International found that weekend athletes are more likely than professionals to suffer Achilles tendon injuries. And, having analyzed more than 400 people with Achilles ruptures (83 percent were men around age 46), researchers found that 68 percent of the injuries were caused by sports.

Other common recreational injuries include shin splints, golf or tennis elbow, rotator cuff injuries, knee pain, and lower back pain. Whatever the cause, if your injury is very painful, or the pain remains intense after two or three days, see a doctor. Only an x-ray will tell you if you've broken a bone and only a doctor will understand the extent of therapy required to properly heal.

Shin splints, also called tibial stress syndrome, cause a dull, aching pain in the front of the lower leg. To reduce pain and swelling, icing is best: 20-30 minutes every three to four hours for two to three days or until the pain is gone.

Golf or tennis elbow, or tendinitis, is caused by repetitive motion on either side of the elbow. Most cases can be successfully treated with rest and medications to reduce pain. In more severe cases, physical therapy is necessary and at its worst, surgery is recommended.

A rotator cuff injury includes any type of irritation or damage to the muscles or tendons that connect your upper arm bone with your shoulder blade. Causes of such injuries usually include lifting and repetitive arm activities - especially those done overhead, such as throwing a baseball or placing items on overhead shelves. About half of the time, a rotator cuff injury can heal with self-care measures or exercise therapy.

Knee pain may have many causes, including medical conditions like gout, though it may be the result of a ruptured ligament or torn cartilage. Many types of minor knee pain respond well to RICE.

Lower back pain after over-exercise is most often short-term and will go away in a few weeks. Gardening, for instance, can cause pain in the muscles not in play during usual activities. Resting and taking over-the-counter pain medication usually does the trick. Any serious and lasting back pain should be attended to by a doctor.


Avoiding most injuries requires common sense prevention. It's important, for instance, to use proper form, technique, and equipment. Warming up first will make a big difference in reducing risk of pain. Because it increases blood flow to the muscles, stretching will improve your general flexibility. Studies suggest dynamic stretches, in which you move through your warm-up instead of remaining static, to decrease injuries. Most importantly, if you become overly tired or you're feeling pain, whether the game is over or not, stop playing ball.

Everyday shoes, for men and women both, often have some extra heel lift. This puts your Achilles tendon, often called your heel cord, in an artificially shortened state for long periods. If you wear very different shoes on the weekend, you risk injuring your tendon. Walk barefoot around the house as much as possible to stretch the cord.

With a little preparation and common sense, you'll end your Memorial Day weekend the way it began: pain-free.