CONTINGENCY OPERATING BASE Q-WEST, Iraq - According to the safety director here, 17 Soldiers from the 16th Sustainment Brigade reported sports-related injuries in January, making it the number one safety issue here.

While deployed, many Soldiers receive injuries due to over-exertion, which is playing while already hurt or straining their muscles, said Jeffrey Buchanan, the safety director for the 16th Sust. Bde. These types of incidents are preventable by stretching properly before and after the activity and by taking precautions while playing.

According to Department of the Army pamphlet 385-5- Fundamentals of Safety in Morale Support Activities, sports and recreational accidents rank second in cause of injuries to privately owned motor vehicle accidents. Accidental injury is a major cause of weakened combat effectiveness by the loss of skilled personnel.

Although it is important for Soldiers to participate in physical activities they enjoy which help keep them in shape for the Army physical fitness test, it is imperative they participate in the safest way possible, Buchanan said.

"A lot of people become more (physically) active in this type of environment," Buchanan said. "They want to stay in shape and sometimes they overestimate their abilities. Some of these Soldiers come over on a deployment and they haven't played sports in a while, so they push themselves too hard. Push yourself, but know your own abilities."

Buchanan said although there were 17 reported injuries, he doesn't know how many sports injuries have gone unreported.

Although DA PAM 385-5 states touch football has the highest percentage chance of disabling injuries among supervised team sports, it cautions that there are safety risks when playing any sport.

Buchanan said regardless of what sport a Soldier is playing, there is a possibility for injury if they forget the safety standards.

The majority of sports-related injuries are from people not reporting their first incident, Buchanan said. Soldiers don't report they're hurt because they want to play through it or don't want to risk being told not to play. He said continuing to play with an injury is the most un-safe thing a Soldier can do.

"Playing with an injury will only make it worse, probably keeping the Soldier from playing for even longer," Buchanan said.

Besides not reporting an injury, Buchanan said most Soldiers jump into their intramural sports games or pick-up games without considering the risks. The number one cause of injury in unsupervised team sports is basketball because many Soldiers start again without stretching properly, Buchanan said.

The proper stretching procedures before participating in a physical activity are stated in Field Manual 21-20-- Army Physical Fitness Training.

In order to maintain the competitiveness and value to the game it is impossible to play without physical contact. Every accident has a cause, and all precautions should be taken to avoid them.

Have fun, stay in shape, be aggressive and continue to play sports, Buchanan said. Just don't forget the importance of playing safely.

Story by Spc. Kelly Anne Beck