Think twice before indulging in that Thanksgiving football game

Thanksgiving traditions include parades, family gatherings, turkey and often a friendly game of touch football. It is this last custom that may require medical consultation.

The athletes involved in any holiday competition fall into two groups: those who regularly participate in some competitive sport and those for whom competitive sports are a pleasant memory. It is this latter group that has the highest probability of visiting an emergency facility.

This Thanksgiving scenario provides a perfect background for a discussion of how to prevent and treat musculoskeletal injuries such as sprains and strains.

The best way to avoid any injury involving muscles, bones and their connections is with adequate warm up. This can be accomplished by an easy jog or jumping jacks.

Using any prescribed braces or wraps should not be ignored.

A sprain is best defined as the stretching or tearing of a ligament. Ligaments are the tissues that connect bones to other bones. Wrist and ankle sprains are commonly associated with recreational sports. A wrist sprain commonly involves a fall on an outstretched hand. Ankle sprains result from sudden inward motion of the ankle.

A strain involves injury to muscles or the tendons that connect muscles to bones.

The spine, especially the neck and low back, is particularly susceptible to strain injuries. Tendonitis such as that seen in tennis elbow is also considered a strain.
The best immediate treatment for these injuries consists of Rest-Ice-Compression-Elevation (RICE therapy). Ice should be applied for no more than 20 minutes, four to eight times per day. Longer applications of ice may result in frostbite and rebound swelling. RICE therapy should be continued for 24-72 hours or when swelling subsides.

Excessive swelling, bone pain or loss of motion in the joint involved makes a doctor’s visit necessary.

Many will see any avoidance of a family athletic contest as a sign of weakness, but discretion is always the better part of valor and no one wants to be in an ER when pumpkin pie is being served.

Anthony G. Alessi, MD, is Chief of Neurology at The William W. Backus Hospital and in private practice at NeuroDiagnostics, LLC, in Norwich. E-mail him at, listen to his podcasts, comment on his blog or buy his book at

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