Updated: Jun 17
Sports injuries occur during exercise or while participating in a sport. Children are particularly at risk for these types of injuries, but adults can get them, too.
You’re at risk for sports injuries if you:
haven’t been regularly active
don’t warm up properly before exercise
play contact sports
Types of sports injuries
Different sports injuries produce different symptoms and complications. The most common types of sports injuries include:
Sprains. Overstretching or tearing the ligaments results in a sprain. Ligaments are pieces of tissue that connect two bones to one another in a joint.
Strains. Overstretching or tearing muscles or tendons results in a sprain. Tendons are thick, fibrous cords of tissue that connect bone to muscle. Strains are commonly mistaken for sprains. Here’s how tell them apart.
Knee injuries. Any injury that interferes with how the knee joint moves could be a sports injury. It could range from an overstretch to a tear in the muscles or tissues in the knee.
Swollen muscles. Swelling is a natural reaction to an injury. Swollen muscles may also be painful and weak.
Achilles tendon rupture. The Achilles tendon is a thin, powerful tendon at the back of your ankle. During sports, this tendon can break or rupture. When it does, you may experience sudden, severe pain and difficulty walking.
Fractures. Bone fractures are also known as broken bones.
Dislocations. Sports injuries may dislocate a bone in your body. When that happens, a bone is forced out of its socket. This can be painful and lead to swelling and weakness.
Rotator cuff injury. Four pieces of muscle work together to form the rotator cuff. The rotator cuff keeps your shoulder moving in all directions. A tear in any of these muscles can weaken the rotator cuff.
The RICE method is a common treatment regimen for sports injuries. It stands for:
This treatment method is helpful for mild sports injuries. For best results, follow the RICE method within the first 24 to 36 hours after the injury. It can help reduce swelling and prevent additional pain and bruising in the early days after a sports injury. Here’s how to follow RICE, plus a recovery timeline.
Both over-the-counter and prescription medications are available to treat sports injuries. Most of them provide relief from pain and swelling.
If your sports injury looks or feels severe, make an appointment to see your doctor. Seek emergency care if the injured joint shows signs of:
severe swelling and pain
visible lumps, bumps, or other deformities
popping or crunching sounds when you use the joint
weakness or inability to put weight on the joint
Serious sports injuries can require surgery and physical therapy. If the injury doesn’t heal within two weeks, contact your doctor for an appointment.
Sports injuries prevention
The best way to prevent a sports injury is to warm up properly and stretch. Cold muscles are prone to overstretching and tears. Warm muscles are more flexible. They can absorb quick movements, bends, and jerks, making injury less likely.
Also take these steps to avoid sports injuries:
Use the proper technique
Learn the proper way to move during your sport or activity. Different types of exercise require different stances and postures. For example, in some sports, bending your knees at the right time can help avoid an injury to your spine or hips.
Have the proper equipment
Wear the right shoes. Make sure you have the proper athletic protection. Ill-fitting shoes or gear can increase your risk for injury.
Don’t overdo it
If you do get hurt, make sure you’re healed before you start the activity again. Don’t try to “work through” the pain.
When you return after letting your body recover, you may need to ease yourself back into the exercise or sport rather than jumping back in at the same intensity.
Remember to cool down after your activity. Usually, this involves doing the same stretching and exercises involved in a warmup.
Resume activity slowly
Don’t be tempted to nurse your injury for too long. Excessive rest may delay healing. After the initial 48-hour period of RICE, you can start using heat to help relax tight muscles. Take things slowly, and ease back in to exercise or your sport of choice.
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