If you’re someone who likes to keep active by exercising regularly or taking part in team sports, you might have experienced some injuries in the past.Sports injuries are usually minor and affect the soft tissue e.g. the ligaments, tendons and muscles. In severe cases, a sports injury might lead to a broken bone or a serious head injury, which requires immediate medical attention.
The good news is that sports injuries are not an inevitable side effect of keeping active. With the right technique and training it’s easy to lower the risk of hurting yourself – read on to find out more.
What are some common sports injuries?
Sport injuries often happen as a result of:
- Not warming up before you exercise
- Using the wrong technique or wrong equipment
- Pushing your body too hard
- An accident
In most cases, the resulting injury is a sprain or a strain of the soft tissue. A sprain is where the ligaments are twisted or torn, while a strain is where the muscles are twisted or torn (this is also known as “pulling a muscle”). In some circumstances, a tear might be felt as a popping or snapping sensation.
Another common sports injury is tendonitis, which is where one of your tendons (usually around a joint) becomes inflamed. Tendons commonly affected include the Achilles (on the back of the heel), the elbow and the shoulder.
Other injuries that can result from exercise include back pain, bone fractures, head injuries, hamstring injuries, swollen joints, knee pain, shoulder pain and injuries to the skin.
What are the symptoms of a sports injury?
Your symptoms will depend upon the nature of your injury. If you’ve had a sprain or a strain you should experience pain and tenderness around the affected muscle or ligament. Bruising and swelling may develop and it will probably become difficult to move the affected area.
If you’ve developed tendonitis, you will experience pain in the affected area, a crackling sensation when you move the tendon, and swelling.
Other symptoms of sports injuries include:
- Pain and stiffness in the heel
- Wounds on the skin e.g. cuts, chafing and grazes
- General bumps and bruises
If you’ve broken a bone or dislocated a joint you may experience very severe pain. The affected area will become swollen, bruised and tender, and will look the wrong shape.Hitting your head can cause a severe head injury.
Symptoms of a severe head injury include:
- Falling unconscious
- Feeling very sleepy
- Having seizures
- Difficulty speaking and understanding other people
- Blurred or double vision
In these circumstances you should seek immediate medical attention for your head injury, either by calling 999 or attending your nearest A&E department.
Which activities are most likely to cause injury?
Some activities are known to be higher risk for certain types of injury.
- Running can cause shin splints (inflammation of the tissues around the shin bone), hamstring injuries, heel pain, knee pain, and even stress fractures, where repeated stresses cause tiny cracks to develop in the bones.
- Tennis can cause shoulder pain and a condition known as tennis elbow, where the muscles and tendons around the elbow become inflamed.
- Contact sports such as rugby can be high risk for injuries such as broken bones, dislocations and severe head injuries.
The benefits of regular exercise are far reaching, so rather than avoiding these kinds of activities, you should establish a way of enjoying them safely.
How are sports injuries treated?
Many sports injuries don’t require medical attention. If you have a minor injury, such as a sprain or strain, you can use the PRICE method to treat your symptoms at home:
- Protect the area by using a support
- Rest and avoid physical activity
- Ice the affected area
- Compress the area with an elastic compression bandage
- Elevate the injured body part above the level of your heart
You can also take painkillers such as paracetamol and ibuprofen.
In the case of a more severe injury, such as a fracture or head wound, you will need to go to the hospital. In rare cases, a sports injury will require surgery.
If you’re recovering from a serious injury or surgery, you might be referred for physiotherapy.
How can I avoid sports injuries?
You should always warm up properly before you begin exercising, and resist the urge to push yourself beyond your ability level. You should wear suitable clothing and footwear (e.g. running shoes, shin guards) and receive training on the proper techniques involved in your sport.
Content reviewed by Jemma Shafier, a Doctor Care Anywhere GP