Sports Injuries

Damage to any part of the body as a result of athletic activity

  • Older participants may be more likely to be injured and injuries heal more slowly
  • More common in males
  • Playing sports, especially contact sports, is a risk factor
  • Genetics is not a significant factor

Sports injuries often occur in people who are new to a sport, begin to exercise after prolonged inactivity, or do not warm up properly before exercise. Men are at greater risk because they play more contact sports.

What are the types?

Any part of the musculoskeletal system may be injured while playing sports. In some sports, there is an increased risk of injury to a specific part of the body.

Bone injuries

Many sports activities can cause damage to the bones, either through repetitive actions or as a result of an impact with another person, the ground, or equipment, such as a bat or a ball. Bones may be broken or cracked (see Fractures) during contact sports such as rugby. The repetitive jarring of bones of the lower limbs of runners may cause stress fractures.

Joint injuries

The bones that form a joint may partially or completely pull apart (see Dislocated joint) during sports that put them under great strain, such as javelin throwing. Dislocation is also a risk in all contact sports. A common injury among football players is damage to the cartilage pads in the knee joint (see Torn knee cartilage).

Ligament and tendon injuries

The fibrous bands of tissue that hold the structures of the musculoskeletal system together are often injured during sports activities. Ligaments, which hold the bones together, may become damaged by a sudden twisting movement or during a fall (see Ligament injuries). Tendons, which attach muscle to bone, may become torn during athletic activities, such as jumping, that involve a sudden muscle contraction (see Ruptured tendon).

Muscle injuries

Most sports rely on strength and suppleness of the muscles, and damage to muscles is common in athletes (see Muscle strains and tears). For example, calf strain, overstretching of the muscles in the calf region, is a common injury in basketball players. Muscle injury is frequently caused by sudden, strenuous movements and lifting heavy objects.

Can they be prevented?

Many sports injuries could be prevented by warming up correctly before starting exercise (see Warming up and cooling down in your exercise routine). Adequate preparation can increase flexibility and reduce stiffness in the muscles and joints. In sports such as running, you should start gently, gradually increasing your pace to prevent placing too much strain on your body. Wear clothes and footwear designed for your type of sport and use recommended safety equipment.

What might be done?

Many minor injuries to ligaments, tendons, and muscles can be treated using basic techniques, such as applying a cold compress or an ice pack to the affected areas, and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. If a sports injury is causing intense or persistent pain, you should consult a doctor. He or she will examine you and may arrange for you to have an X-ray to check whether you have sustained a fracture.

If you have a fracture, it may be necessary to immobilize the injured area by using a cast (see Fracture treatments). Surgery may be required for some injuries, such as a ruptured tendon. You may also need physiotherapy from a sports therapist. You should not participate in any sports until you are free of pain.

From the 2010 revision of the Complete Home Medical Guide © Dorling Kindersley Limited.

The subjects, conditions and treatments covered in this encyclopaedia are for information only and may not be covered by your insurance product should you make a claim.

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