When is it Safe to Play Through an Injury?

Joe Zemla
Yahoo! Contributor Network

All athletes suffer injuries at some point during their career. But when is it OK to play through your sports injuries?

Dallas Cowboys' quarterback Tony Romo has played a majority of the 2011 NFL season with broken ribs and a punctured lung. But unless you are making millions of dollars to take your team to the Super Bowl, you are usually better off letting an injury fully heal before attempting to take the field again, although exceptions can be made for certain types of injuries.

Warning Signs of Serious Injuries

You can shake off some minor sports injuries, but be on the lookout for any of the following symptoms, which should immediately signal a red flag to take a seat.

* Severe pain: If your pain is greater than a 5 on a 1-10 scale, it's time to rest and see a trainer. Sharp, stabbing pains are generally more serious than dull aches.

* Altered movements: When you find yourself limping, favoring one side of your body, or hesitant to bear weight on an injury, don't try to push it. Trying to compensate for an injury will only set you back further.

* Frequent pain: If your pain has not subsided after a few days of rest, see a doctor before checking back into the game.

* Head trauma: Any blow to the head should be taken very seriously, regardless of how minor the injury may seem. Concussions can go unrecognized until symptoms worsen. Some of the most common signs of a concussion are headache, dizziness, vision and speech impairment, confusion, and vomiting.

Injuries You May Be Able to Play Through

You may be able to ride out the following injuries, depending on severity. Keep in mind, however, that these are only general guidelines, and it is always wise to seek professional medical advice before making a decision.

* Minor muscle strains: A muscle strain, or "pulled muscle," is a partial to full tearing of the muscle tissue following an acute injury. Symptoms typically include swelling, pain, and muscle weakness. A minor muscle strain will heal on its own, but seek medical care if you experience a "popping" sound during the injury, severe pain, or trouble moving.

* Minor skin abrasions: Provided there is no severe bleeding, most minor skin abrasions can be treated with a first-aid kit, but make sure the wound is properly bandaged before returning to play.

* Muscle soreness: It's typical to experience some muscle soreness after a tough game. While it is generally okay to play through minor muscle aches, rest will help the muscle recover faster.

Remember, everyone's body is unique and responds differently to injury. The most important question to ask yourself is whether or not it is worth playing through a particular injury. For an NFL quarterback like Tony Romo, the answer was understandably yes. But if you are a high school athlete with a long career ahead of you, you are probably better off letting the injury heal, and only returning to the game when you can give a full effort.

Sources: health.howstuffworks.com