What Are Sport Injuries?

People participate in physical activity and organized sports for various reasons, including competition, pleasure, and socialization. Further, many people are physically active in order to maintain and improve their overall health. Engaging in regular physical activity has been shown to provide many health benefits, including a decreased risk of premature death, as well as a decreased risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, colon cancer, obesity, and diabetes. However, participating in physical activity and sports can also result in injury, which can lead to chronic problems if left untreated.

Sports injury is a broad term that is used to describe a type of injury that most commonly occurs during physical activity. Skeletal muscle injuries are the most common injury in sports. Common types of sports injuries include strains and sprains, knee injuries (ACL), Achilles tendon injuries, swollen muscles, shin splints, rotator cuff injuries, dislocations, and fractures.

Sports injuries can be classified as either acute or chronic in nature. Acute injuries include injuries such as a sprained or fractured ankle. Signs and symptoms of an acute sports injury include: severe sudden pain, swelling, extreme tenderness, inability to bear weight, severe extremity weakness, or a noticeable dislocation or fractured bone. Chronic injuries usually occur from overuse of a body part while playing a specific sport. Signs and symptoms of a chronic sports injury include pain when engaging in activity, dull ache at rest, and swelling.

When an injury occurs, the body initiates a natural healing process. Initially, the damaged cells release chemicals that trigger the inflammation process. The blood vessels at the injured area begin to dilate and blood flow to the area increases.  Leukocytes travel to the injured area within hours of the injury, where they destroy and remove damaged tissue. This allows other specialized cells to start forming scar tissue. Within days of the injury, scar tissue is formed inside the body or on the skin. The degree of scar tissue development may be proportional to the degree of swelling, inflammation, and bleeding. Within a month or so of the injury, scar tissue may begin to shrink which causes the damaged, torn, or separated tissues to come back together. However, this final process may take several months to complete.

When an individual suffers a sports injury, no matter how insignificant it may seem, it is imperative that they stop playing. Continuing to engage in activity may result in further damage to the area and may lead to a more serious injury.

Causes Of Sports Injuries

There are various causes of sports injuries, including:

  • Accidents (indirect or direct)
  • Inadequate training practices
  • Inadequate equipment
  • Deconditioned participants
  • Inadequate warm-up and lack of stretching

Treatments For Sports Injuries

Sports InjuriesThere are a variety of conservative treatment options that exist to treat acute and chronic sports injuries. The goals of treatment are to reduce further damage to the affected area, relieve muscle pain and spasms, reduce inflammation, and encourage the healing process.

The most common treatment that is usually applied initially following a sports injury is the RICE approach. This approach involves rest, ice, compression, and elevation of the affected area. The goal of the RICE approach is to minimize inflammation of the injured area. Ice should be applied to the affected area in increments of 15 to 20 minutes, followed by a rest period of 30 to 60 minutes. Longer periods of ice application can lead to increased circulation and increased bleeding in the affected area.  Compression of the affected area may help to reduce swelling. Elevation of the area, above the level of the heart, may help to decrease swelling.

Occasionally, a patient may be immobilized when they sustain a sports injury. This involves immobilizing the affected area to reduce movement and prevent further injury. Immobilization helps to enable blood supply to the affected area, reduce pain, swelling, and spasm. Common devices that are used for immobilization include slings, splints, casts, and leg immobilizers.

Physicians may make additional recommendations to patients who have suffered a sports injury. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) may be recommended to help reduce inflammation at the affected site, thereby helping to reduce pain. However, long-term use of NSAIDs can cause irritation of the stomach and can also affect kidney function. Patients taking NSAIDs should therefore be monitored closely for adverse side effects. Another commonly used medication for sports injuries is acetaminophen. Acetaminophen may help to relieve pain, however, it has no anti-inflammatory properties and does not help to reduce inflammation that is commonly associated with sports injuries.

Physical therapy, including a thorough rehabilitation program, is an essential part of the healing process, as it will help the injured area to return to a normal level of functioning. A physical therapy program consists of mobilization of the affected area (when appropriate) as well as an exercise program that consists of a variety of targeted stretching and strengthening exercises to help improve range of motion and strength of the affected area.

Other conservative treatment methods that may be utilized for sports injuries include: electrical stimulation, ultrasound, cold or hot therapy, and massage therapy.

In rare cases, surgery may be necessary for severe injuries including compete tears and compound fractures.


Engaging in regular physical activity improves overall health and well-being; however, there is also the potential for injury to occur. Common sports injuries include muscle strains and sprains, knee injuries (ACL), swollen muscles, Achilles tendon injuries, shin splints, rotator cuff injuries, dislocations, and fractures.

In rare cases, surgery is needed to repair severe injuries; however, most cases resolve with conservative care. Conservative treatment options include the RICE approach, NSAIDs, immobilization, physical therapy, and rehabilitation among others. Athletes should be advised to stop engaging in activity immediately after suffering an injury and should allow ample time to recover in an effort to reduce the damage and severity of their injury.


  1. Bahr R, Holme I. Risk factors for sports injuries – a methodological approach. Br J Sports Med. 2003;37:384-392.
  2. Bahr R, Krosshaug T. Understanding injury mechanisms: a key component of preventing injuries in sport. Br J Sports Med. 2005;39:324-329.
  3. Baoge L, Van Den Steen E, Rimbaut S, Philips N, et al. Treatment of skeletal muscle injury: a review. ISRN Orthopedics. 2012. Article ID 689012, 7 pages, 2012. doi:10.5402/2012/689012.
  4. nih.gov,. Handout on health: sports injuries. N.p., 2015. Web. 15 Mar. 2015.
  5. nih.gov,. Sports jnjuries:Medlineplus. N.p., 2015. Web. 15 Mar. 2015.