Sports injury

Medical quality assurance by Dr. Albrecht Nonnenmacher, MD at June 30, 2016
StartDiseasesSports injury

As the term suggests, sports injuries are injuries that most commonly occur during or as a result of participating in athletic activities. Such activities can include solo sports, group sports, or working out by oneself. Recent reports suggest that sports injuries are on the rise among youth.


Definition & Facts

Sports injuries are defined as injuries that occur while working out, exercising, or pursuing sports. Physical activity does not have to be strenuous for a sports injury to occur. The sports that result in the greatest incidence of sports injuries include these:

  • Basketball.
  • Cycling.
  • Soccer.
  • Baseball.
  • Football.

Different sports have different types of injuries associated with them. However, across the board, the most common types of sports injuries include these:

The Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation (ASPE) (a part of the Department of Health and Human Services) estimates that up to 12 million sports injuries are diagnosed annually just among people ages 5 to 22.

There are two types of sports injuries, and the symptoms and complaints tend to look markedly different for each. The first type of sports injury is acute, which is regarded as a one-time injury that occurs swiftly during physical activity. The second type is chronic, which is regarded as a type of injury that tends to recur over time. 

Symptoms & Complaints

While both acute and chronic sports injuries can be quite painful and uncomfortable, and both require treatment and rest to heal fully, there are also some important differences to be aware of when it comes to symptoms:

  • Acute. The injury happens and the pain tends to be swift and intense. This type of injury also tends to immobilize the individual or at least greatly limit mobility.
  • Chronic. This injury tends to persist over time. Rather than a sudden sharp increase in pain, chronic pain is often described as "dull" or "aching," with flare-ups and an increase in pain when the activity that originally caused the injury is performed.


The causes for sports injuries are quite varied. The cause can depend on the type of sport or athletic activity as well as the overall fitness level of the participant. The most commonly cited causes for sports injuries include the following:

  • Failure to warm up sufficiently before beginning to play sports or workout.
  • Not using the right type of equipment (protective gear or playing equipment).
  • No training or poor training.
  • Simple accidents.
  • Failure to cool down and stretch after working out or playing sports.

Diagnosis & Tests

Diagnosing a sports injury begins with the physician gathering an individual's medical history and his or her family history. Then a physical examination is performed with special attention paid to the area(s) of the injury. Sometimes the nature of the injury will permit the treating physician to visually inspect the site to make a diagnosis, but if the injury is largely or wholly underneath the skin, additional measures may be needed to form an accurate diagnosis. For this reason, depending on the type and severity of the injury and its location, a variety of tests may be ordered to confirm the diagnosis:

Touch and sensitivity tests, vision, hearing and movement tests and other diagnostic tests may also be included to test for impaired cognitive, sensory, and motor function following a sports injury. 

Treatment & Therapy

The treatment prescribed will depend entirely on the type and severity of the sports injury. In many cases, a simple application of RICE (rest, ice, compression, elevation) is all that is needed to heal a mild sports injury.

In some more severe cases, surgery may be required, along with physical therapy for rehabilitation following an injury. Massage, biofeedback, acupuncture, medication, chiropractic, therapeutic ultrasound, cold laser therapy, heat therapy, cold therapy, and other modalities may be combined to promote complete healing from the injury.

Prevention & Prophylaxis

While it is never possible to fully prevent a sports injury from ever occurring, there are many ways to minimize the risk and certainly to reduce the severity of any injury sustained. Some of the best preventative measures include these:

  • Always warming up and stretching before beginning a sports game or workout.
  • Getting enough rest.
  • Eating a healthy diet and drinking plenty of water.
  • Using the right gear and wearing the right clothes and shoes for the type of sport being played or workout being done.
  • Always landing with feet slightly bent after jumping.
  • Never extending joints past a 90 degree angle.
  • Being sure to incorporate rest days into any practice or workout schedule (this allows the body to repair itself).
  • Spending a minimum of 5 minutes post-workout or game cooling down and stretching out muscles, ligaments and tendons.
  • Trying not to push the body past its limits by doing too much too quickly.
  • Avoiding running on hard surfaces and using a pad during floor and strength exercises.