Sports Injuries

What are sports injuries?

In the broadest sense “sports injury” refers to injuries that most commonly occur during sports or exercise. Some sports injuries result from accidents while others are due to poor training practices, the use of improper equipment or insufficient warm-up and stretching. The term is typically reserved for injuries that involve the musculoskeletal system, which includes the muscles, bones and associated tissues like cartilage.

The most common sport injuries

Sprains and strains

A sprain is a stretch or tear of a ligament. The ligament is the band of connective tissues that joins the end of one bone with another. A sprain is usually the result of trauma such as a fall or blow to the body that knocks a joint out of position or ruptures the supporting ligaments. Signs of a sprain include varying degrees of tenderness or pain, bruising, inflammation, swelling, inability to move a limb or joint or joint looseness, laxity or instability.

A strain is a twist, pull or tear of a muscle or tendon. A tendon is a cord of tissue connecting muscle to bone. A strain is an acute, non-contact injury that results from overstretching or over-contraction. Symptoms of a strain include pain, muscle spasm and loss of strength.

Compartment syndrome

In many parts of the body, muscles (along with the nerves and blood vessels that run next to and through them) are enclosed in a “compartment” formed of a tough membrane called fascia. Swollen muscles can fill the compartment to capacity and interfere with nerves and blood vessels or even damage the muscles themselves. This causes a painful condition which is referred to as compartment syndrome.

In sports, it is usually the result of ongoing overuse which may occur in long-distance running (known as chronic exertional compartment syndrome).

Shin splints

Although the term “shin splints” has been widely used to describe any sort of leg pain associated with exercise, the term actually refers to pain along the tibia or shin bone.

This pain can occur at the front outside part of the lower leg, including the foot and ankle (anterior shin splints) or at the inner edge of the bone where it meets the calf muscles (medial shin splints).

Shin splints are primarily seen in runners, particularly those just starting a running program. Risk factors for shin splints include overuse or incorrect use of the lower leg, improper stretching, warm-up or exercise technique. Other factors include overtraining, running or jumping on hard surfaces and running in shoes not providing the sufficient support needed.

Achilles tendon injuries

This injury results from a stretch, tear or irritation to the tendon that connects the calf muscle to the back of the heel.

Tendinitis is the most common cause of Achilles tendon tears. Tendinitis is a degenerative condition and the result of aging or overuse. When a tendon is weakened, trauma can cause it to rupture.


A fracture is a break in the bone that can occur either from a one-time injury to the bone (acute fracture) or from repeated stress to the bone over time (stress fracture).

Acute fractures can be simple (a clean break with little damage to the surrounding tissue) or compound (a break in which the bone pierces the skin with little damage to the surrounding tissue).

Stress fractures occur largely in the feet and legs and are common in sports that require repetitive impact, primarily running/jumping sports such as gymnastics or track and field sports. The most common symptom of a stress fracture is pain at the site. It usually worsens with weight-bearing activities. Tenderness and swelling often accompany the pain.


Dislocation takes place when the two bones that form a joint are separated. Contact sports like netball and rugby, as well as high-impact sports and sports that can result in excessive stretching or falling cause the majority of dislocations. A dislocated joint is an emergency situation and requires immediate medical treatment.

Acute and chronic injuries

Regardless of the specific structure affected, sports injuries can generally be classified as acute or chronic.

Acute Injuries

Acute injuries are sudden and take place during activity. Signs of an acute injury include:

  • Sudden, severe pain;
  • Swelling;
  • Inability to place weight on a lower limb;
  • Extreme tenderness in an upper limb;
  • Inability to move a joint through its full range of motion;
  • Extreme limb weakness; and
  • Visible dislocation or break of a bone.

Chronic Injuries

Chronic injuries usually result from overusing one area of the body while playing a sport or exercising over a long period of time. The following are signs of a chronic injury:

  • Pain when performing an activity; and
  • A dull ache when at rest.

Preventing injury

We provide some tips to consider in order for preventing sports injuries:

  • Avoid bending knees beyond 90 degrees when doing half knee bends.
  • Avoid twisting knees by keeping feet as flat as possible during stretches.
  • When jumping, land with your knees bent.
  • Always do warm-up exercises for both vigorous activities like running or less forceful activities like golf.
  • Never overdo exercising.
  • Do warm-up stretches before activity. Stretch the Achilles tendon, hamstring and quadriceps areas and hold the positions.
  • Cool down following vigorous sports. After a race, walk or walk/jog for five minutes so your pulse comes down gradually.
  • Wear properly fitting shoes that provide shock absorption and stability.
  • Use the softest exercise surface available and avoid running on hard surfaces like concrete.