Sports Injuries: Types & Their Treatments

Sports are essentially a way for you to stay active, have fun, and build strength, whether you play it recreationally or professionally. But even the most cautious athletes, from the professionals to the amateurs can encounter all sorts of injuries, from head to toe.

One study from the United States found out that almost a quarter of all the injuries observed in competitive athletes in the collegiate levels within the country caused the athlete to miss at least one day of sporting activities, in which lower areas of the body such as the knee, lower leg, ankle, or foot contribute around 77 percent of these injuries.

While in Australia, outdoor sports contributed the highest amount of sports injuries, according to the report by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare in 2022. They contributed around 26 percent of the reported injuries, followed by combat sports with 16 percent, and lastly indoor sports alongside motorsports with 15 percent each.

Despite being considered as a natural aspect of the sports, precautions to prevent injuries are inherently needed to avoid permanent damages to the body in the foreseeable future.

Types of Injuries

There is a whole catalogue when it comes to injuries within the context of sports. However, it can be essentially classified into two broad categories of sports injuries, which as follows:

  • Acute Injuries: Acute injuries usually occur suddenly due to specific accidents or events, such as a fall, a collision, or an awkward landing. Some examples of acute injuries may include sprains, strains, fractures, and dislocations.

  • Chronic Injuries: Chronic injuries usually occur much longer in comparison to acute injuries, as it develops over time due to repetitive stress on muscles, tendons, or joints. Some examples of chronic injuries may include tendinitis, bursitis, and stress fractures.
Most Common Acute Injuries

Common Acute Injuries

Here are some of the common acute injuries that you can expect, with their symptoms and causes:

  • Sprains: Sprains are commonly known when the ligaments, the tissue that connects the bones, are overstretched or torn. The lower parts of the body such as ankles, knees, and wrists are especially vulnerable to this specific injury.

    Sudden twists, falls, or landing awkwardly are usually the main causes of sprains, especially the ankle areas being the most vulnerable. Sprain injuries are considered as one of the most prevalent injuries, accounting to approximately 16 to 40 percent of all sports-related injuries.

    Some of the notable symptoms in sprains include pain, swelling, bruising, and difficulty bearing weight.

  • Strains: A strain can be described as an overstretching or tearing of muscles or tendons. They can occur in various muscle groups, depending on the activity. There are a few causes of strains, and most of them are preventable, such as an improper warm-up, muscle fatigue, or overuse of the muscles.

    Strains, like sprains, are considered as the most common acute injuries in the context of sports. One report suggested that muscle strain injuries account for 31 percent of all injuries, specifically in professional football.

    Some of the notable symptoms of strains include pain, tenderness, muscle weakness, and limited range of motion.

  • Fractures: Fractures are essentially broken bones that can occur in almost every part of the body, which can range from hairline cracks to complete breaks, in more severe cases.Usually, fractures are caused by direct blows, falls, or overuse stress.

    One report suggested that sporting activities are the third most common cause of fractures, with the upper limb areas such as wrists and hands being the most common sports fracture with 16.5 percent of the accounted fractures, followed by the lower limb areas with 7.5 percent.

    Some of the notable symptoms caused by fractures may include severe pain, swelling, bruising, deformity, and inability to bear weight, depending on the severity of the fracture.

  • Dislocations: When a bone is forced out of its normal joint position, it’s a dislocation. This can be a serious injury. A dislocation of the bone might be caused by direct blows, falls, or forceful twisting.

    Dislocations in the elbow areas are considered as the most common dislocation injuries when it comes to sports injuries, especially among basketball and football athletes in the high school and collegiate levels, according to one study.

    Some of the notable symptoms of bone dislocations may include severe pain, swelling, deformity, and a loss of function in the joint.
Most Common Chronic Injuries

Common Chronic Injuries

Here are some of the common chronic injuries that you can expect, with their symptoms and causes:

  • Tendinitis: Tendinitis (sometimes referred to as tendonitis) can be described as an inflammation of a tendon, which is the tissue connecting muscle to bone, usually caused by an overuse of the tendon itself, either from repetitive motions, improper technique, or even inadequate warm-up. Tendinitis can affect various areas like the elbow (tennis elbow) or the shoulder area.

    Tendinitis is prevalent in recreational sports such as running, with 30 percent of the runners exhibiting tendinopathy, especially in the Achilles tendon area. Besides the Achilles, the patellar area is also particularly vulnerable to tendinopathy, which occurs more frequently in team sports such as volleyball to basketball.

    Tendinitis may include symptoms such as pain and tenderness within the tendon area, which can worsen over time with activity.

  • Bursitis: Bursitis can be defined as an inflammation of a bursa, which is the fluid-filled sac that cushions the bones, muscles, and tendons, also due to overuse from either repetitive motions or even a direct impact into the area. Bursitis commonly affects the shoulder, knee, and elbow.

    Bursitis is especially common among injuries that are caused by sports that repetitively use the shoulders, such as tennis, according to one journal article.

    Bursitis has a number of notable symptoms, such as pain, swelling, tenderness, and limited range of motion in the affected joints.

  • Stress Fractures: Stress fractures are small cracks in the bone area which is caused by repetitive stress. Runners and also athletes who participate in activities with high-impact landings are the ones who are more vulnerable to stress fractures. Improper training techniques, inadequate rest and poor footwear can be the main causes of stress fractures.

    Stress fractures account for about 20 percent of reported injuries, especially runners who average more than 25 miles. The study also suggested that stress fractures are also common among military personnel due to the harsh and repetitive nature of military training.

    Symptoms of stress fractures may include pain that worsens with activity and improves with rest.

Common Treatments for Sport Injuries

The treatment for a sports injury depends on the specific type and severity of the injury. Here’s a breakdown of the most common treatment approaches:

General Principles:

  • RICE Principle: RICE principle stands for Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation. This principle has become a first-line approach for managing many acute injuries, particularly in the initial stages, with each step playing its own significant role: Rest allows the body to focus towards the healing process, ice application process reduces the symptoms of inflammation, compression helps minimise swelling, and elevation promotes drainage of fluids from the injured area.

     

    However, recent studies have suggested that the RICE principle is no longer a viable option. These studies have shown that the results of RICE itself is not sufficient or conclusive enough to be considered as a proper treatment for acute sports injuries.  Therefore, consulting a medical expert about alternatives to this treatment is recommended.

     

  • NSAIDs: Over-the-counter non-steroidal anti inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen can be an alternative for pain and inflammation management in the initial stages. NSAIDs could treat some of the acute injuries in a short-term period. However, any sort of medication should be used carefully and rarely for long periods without consulting with an appropriate health professional first.

     

  • Protection: Depending on the type of the injury and the location of the injury, the usage of either brace, splint, or cast might be needed to immobilise the area and promote healing.

Specific Treatments for Common Injuries:

  • Sprains and Strains: RICE principle is essentially crucial, especially when diagnosed early. Depending on the severity, a medical expert might recommend immobilisation with a brace for a short period followed by physical therapy. Physical therapy focuses on strengthening towards the injured muscles or tendons, resulting in the improvement of the flexibility of muscles and tendons, and restoring their normal function.
  • Fractures: Fractures may require detailed medical attention. Common treatment for fractures may involve casting, splinting, or even surgery to realign the broken bone, followed by physical therapy for rehabilitation for a period of time.
  • Dislocations: Medical attention is critical to relocate a dislocated bone and prevent further damage, as soon as possible. This might involve gentle manipulation by a medical expert, particularly chiropractors, to put the bone back in its socket. Prolonged rehabilitation exercises are often recommended afterward to regain strength and stability in the joint areas.

Chronic Injuries:

  • Tendinitis and Bursitis: With both injuries essentially being inflamed areas of either the tendons or the bursas, the treatment process of reducing inflammation and strengthening the surrounding muscles are eventually prioritised.

    The treatment itself might involve resting the affected area, applying ice, using anti-inflammatory medication, and physical therapy. Physical therapy exercises target strengthening the muscles that support the joint and improve flexibility to prevent future issues.
  • Stress Fractures: Rest is crucial to allow the fractured bone to heal. Depending on the severity of the fracture, a medical expert might recommend immobilisation with a cast or boot. Physical therapy for a certain period of time plays a vital role in strengthening bones and the surrounding muscles to prevent further fractures.

Understanding Types Of Sports Injuries To Maintain A Healthy Lifestyle

While sports offer a fantastic way to stay active and healthy, they also come with the potential for injuries. By understanding the different types of injuries, from acute sprains to chronic overuse issues, you can be better prepared to prevent them. Proper warm-up, stretching, using appropriate equipment, and maintaining good form are all crucial for staying safe.

However, if an injury does occur at some point during your activity, immediately implement the RICE principle (Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation) as a first-line treatment. Consulting a medical expert, especially a sports medicine professional, for diagnosis and treatment is vital for a smooth recovery and a speedy return to your favourite sporting activities. Understanding the limits of your body and taking considerable precautions can help you avoid injuries and keep you on the field, court, or track, enjoying the many benefits of sports.

Written by

Priyom holds a Ph.D. in Plant Biology and Biotechnology from the University of Madras, India. She is an active researcher and an experienced science writer. Priyom has also co-authored several original research articles that have been published in reputed peer-reviewed journals. She is also an avid reader and an amateur photographer.

Written by

Priyom holds a Ph.D. in Plant Biology and Biotechnology from the University of Madras, India. She is an active researcher and an experienced science writer. Priyom has also co-authored several original research articles that have been published in reputed peer-reviewed journals. She is also an avid reader and an amateur photographer.

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