Sports play a big role in many people’s lives. Unfortunately, injuries are common in most sports, on both the amateur or professional level. For this reason, it’s important for professionals to understand basic first aid for sports related injuries and accidents. Whether you’re a match official, a coach, or a track and field specialist, you need to be ready in case one of the athletes gets hurt.
First aid for sports focuses on both injury prevention and treatment. In this article, we’ll cover some of the general safety tips to create a safe environment for athletes. Following that, we’ll focus on what to do in the event of an injury, and what you should bring in your sports first aid kit.
First Aid for Sport Prevention
While you can’t stop all accidents, there are things you can do to lower the chance of athletes being hurt in the first place. The exact preventative measures you can take as a coach vary depending on the sport. However, there are some safety precautions you can take that are useful in any situation.
For one, it’s important to make sure athletes are in proper condition before they head out to the field. Make sure they’re physically and mentally fit for the field. An athlete who’s distracted, or has an existing injury that could be made worse shouldn’t play. Also, don’t forget to hydrate! Dehydration can be dangerous and lead to heat stroke in warm weather, among other things, in addition to lowering the athlete’s ability to perform. Sometimes cold, running water isn’t available depending on where you’re training or performing, and athletes don’t always bring enough of their own. It’s good to bring extra just in case, and allow athletes plenty of water breaks.
You must also assess the safety of the environment the athletes will be using. This includes making sure that any equipment is sound, and making any other considerations that might be necessary. Is the location indoors, or outdoors? Is the floor wet or slippery? Are there any divots or uneven surfaces that athletes could trip and injure themselves on? And if something happened, where is the first aid kit, or the AED?
On that note, most sports leagues require coaches to be certified in CPR and first aid. There should always be at least one person with this training at every game, practice or team event. A first aid kit and an automated external defibrillator (AED) must also be available in case of an emergency.
What Supplies Do You Need for a Sports First Aid Kit?
So obviously, a sports first aid kit is a must. But you might be wondering about the individual supplies that go into the kit. Not all first aid kits are the same. Whether you’re buying one or putting one together yourself, there are a number of important items a sports first aid kit should have. Here is a sports first aid kit contents list.
- Emergency cards for each athlete. These are especially important if you’re a coach in charge of children. Each emergency card should contain emergency contact info, as well as all relevant medical information including medical conditions, medications and allergies.
- A CPR mask
- Exam/surgical gloves
- Safety pins
- Disposable instant cold packs
- Triangular bandages
- Elastic bandages in multiple sizes
Additionally, an AED should be kept with your sports first aid kit for easy-access.
Wound Care Items
- Sterile gauze pads
- Roll gauze
- Antibiotic ointment
- Antiseptic solution
- Adhesive bandages
- Wound pads
- Alcohol wipes
- Cotton swabs (Q-tips)
Ointments and Solutions
- Hand sanitizer
- Petroleum jelly
- Sterile eyewash
Instruments & Tools
- Bandage scissors
- Hand mirror
- Tape, tape underwrap, and tape adherent
- Resealable bags
- Contact lens case
First Aid in Sport Treating Injuries
Finally, it’s important to be aware of the different types of injuries that can happen while playing sports, and their treatments. Professionals trained in first aid for sports will frequently deal with the following conditions.
The most common types of sports injuries are sprains. A sprain is a stretch or tear of ligament, which is the tough fibrous tissue that connects two or more bones at a joint. Symptoms include pain, swelling , bruising and a limited ability to move the joint. A sprained ankle is statistically the most common sports injury overall. Other commonly affected areas include the wrists, knees, and thumbs. Depending on severity, they can take days or even months to heal fully. If an athlete suffers a sprain while playing, they should stop and receive treatment. When treating a sprain, remember the acronym “RICE.”
- REST the injury until it’s no longer painful.
- ICE the injury. Wrap a bag of ice in a cold compress or towel and apply it for no more than 20 minutes at a time, 4-8 times per-day.
- COMPRESSION. Support the injury with an elastic compress bandage while it’s healing.
- ELEVATION. Raising the injured limb above the level of your heart can help reduce swelling.
Following sprains, the second most common type of sports injury is a strain. A strain is a twist, pull or tear in a muscle or in a tendon, which is the cord of tissue that connects muscle to bone. They’re typically caused by overexertion or poor flexibility. The most common strains affect the hamstrings and quadriceps. Athletes can lower their chance of straining muscles by properly stretching and warming up, and by training their flexibility. As with sprains, strains can be treated by following “RICE.”
Fractures, are breaks in the bone that are often caused by a blow or fall. They can rage from hairline fractures, which are thin and don’t go completely through the bone, or compound fractures, in which the broken bones actually protrude through the skin. Some athletes, most commonly runners, also develop stress fractures, which are weak spots in the bone caused by overuse. If you suspect an athlete has a broken bone provide first aid treatment.
- First, make sure to stop any bleeding. Elevate the wound and apply pressure with a clean cloth or sterile bandage.
- Then, immobilize the injured area. Moving the bone is going to make things worse. If they’ve broken something in their neck or back, convince them to stay as still as possible. If a limb was broken, use a splint or a sling to keep it in place.
- Afterwards, apply cold to the area. Wrap an ice pack, or ice cubes, in clean cloth and apply it to the area for about 10 minutes at a time.
- Also, be sure to treat them for shock. Help them get comfortable, reassure them, and make sure they aren’t too hot or too cold.
- When possible, get professional help. Call 911 or get them to the emergency department for professional care.
In the event they’re unresponsive, unconscious or not breathing, perform CPR until help arrives.
When extreme force is put on a ligament, it can force two bones to separate. When a bone is forced from its normal position, it has been dislocated. The most common site of injury in adults is the shoulder, while in children it’s the elbow.
When an athlete dislocates a joint, it’s important they receive medical help immediately. As with a fracture, the joint should be immobilized with a splint or sling if necessary. Do not attempt to move the joint back into place. This can result in further injury to the surrounding ligaments, muscles or blood vessels. Instead, treat the swelling with ice while waiting for professional care.
How to Assemble Your Team’s First Aid Kit
Anyone trained in first aid for sports should know how to properly assemble and store their sports first aid kits. Many sports first aid kits come with everything you need, but whether yours is store-bought or you’re building it yourself, there are a few rules to keep in mind. For one, you should know where everything in the kit is. Be organized; you don’t want to waste time looking for supplies in an emergency. Make sure any delicate items are in a sturdy container and that the kit itself is waterproof. Secondly, keep inventory of everything in the kit, and restock it when necessary. Lastly, make sure you and anyone else who will use it, knows where the kit is at all times.
Learn More About First Aid for Sports
There’s a reason sports first aid certification for professionals is required in 33 states. But whether you’re required to or not, and no matter what capacity you’re participating in, anyone can benefit from learning basic first aid for sports. For those who don’t have the time to take classes in person, CPR and first aid can be learned online.