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Enjoy summer sports, but keep safety in mind

By Air Force Staff Sgt. Sheila deVera | JBER Public Affairs | July 27, 2015

JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska — As summer progresses, the days are getting shorter. But there are still plenty of outdoor activities to do in Alaska.

With the 2015 Critical Days of Summer campaign in full swing, summer sports safety should be a concern for all service members and families. 

Summer is one of the most dangerous seasons for sport injuries because there are more opportunities and choices for people to play outdoor, said Tech. Sgt. Ray Otero, noncommissioned officer in charge of installation safety.

"A lot of common types [of sports-related injuries] you see are sprains, strains, knee injuries, shin splints, and groin pulls," Otero said. "You also see a lot of people [get hurt] who have preexisting injuries they didn't know about."

While players are in competitive mode, Otero said they lose sight of their surroundings.

"When players are very competitive, they ignore the risk assessment they have made," the New York City native said. It all goes out the window when competition kicks in; we have human factors which contribute to mishaps."

In some situations, sports injuries can also be attributed to wearing the wrong footwear.

"If you are playing basketball, wear the appropriate shoes," Otero said. "The most common shoes worn are tennis or running shoes. These shoes do not have the ankle support, and players tend to twist their ankles."

Otero also emphasizes hydration.

"As the temperature cools down, you still have to continue to hydrate," the 16-year veteran said. "Don't let the temperature fool you."

From July 1, 2014 to July 1, 2015, JBER had 50 reported mishaps in sports, recreation and individual fitness activities both off and on duty. "Preventive maintenance for sport injuries starts with knowing your limits," said John Limon, Buckner Physical Fitness Center director.

"Always examine the sport or event and realistically compare how your own expectations and athletic standing fit together. I am not saying that being out of shape is a disqualification for participating in sports, but creating the right mindset toward the level of competitiveness during the sport or event is key."

When injured, the basic recovery model is RICE - rest, ice, compression and elevation, as well as getting an assessment of the injury from a professional.

For example, the course of action for a minor sprain would be to get off of it, apply a cold compress, and snugly wrap it with an elastic bandage to control swelling and stabilize the joint. Elevate the injured area above the level of the heart and take it easy.

Light stretching, range-of-motion exercises and strength training can resume as early as 24 hours post injury, Limon said.

"From a training perspective, there are two often-overlooked pieces to the recovery pie," Limon said.

"First, do not take the injury as an excuse to do absolutely nothing [to aid healing]. Recovery does not happen simply by thinking about needing to get better. Second, examine your routine and fix the weaknesses in it."

He said that light aerobic activity to promote blood flow, followed by stretching, foam rolling or massage can help speeds up the recovery process.

Over-the-counter, such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory are also commonly used to reduced inflammation. The anti-inflammatories are best used immediately after injury, before swelling occurs.

"Stay active and use your head," Limon said. "The Performance Triad is a helpful tool for military members and experts are available on base to help. The American College of Sports Medicine and the National Strength and Conditioning Association are also fantastic resources."

Summer sports safety can be narrowed down to three essentials points: hydration, training and conditioning, and the wear of proper gear.

Many sports-related injuries are inevitable and unavoidable, but many can be prevented simply by wearing the proper protective gear, properly training and conditioning your body for the activities in which you intend to partake, and educating yourself on how to prevent injuries.