Definition & Overview

Whether you’re playing on an outdoor field, an indoor court, swimming pool, or your backyard, the fact that your body is exerting a certain degree of effort makes it prone to a sports injury. Injuries can range from a simple sprain to a head contusion or a broken bone.

Due to a wide range of sports, every muscle or bone is susceptible to an injury. Some of the most common sports injuries are fractures, dislocations, strains, sprains, and shin splints. However, there are two main types of sports injuries: acute and chronic. An acute sports injury is a sudden onset of pain and/or inability to move or apply pressure on the limb while chronic sports injuries occur over time and are caused by the wear and tear of a muscle, joint, or tendon. Those with chronic injuries usually experience a dull pain in the affected area during physical activities.

Minor or mild sports injuries may not require medical intervention. In some cases, resting the affected limb and letting the body heal on its own will do the trick. However, severe cases may require surgery. Fortunately, developments in surgical processes and advances in the field of medical technology, such as minimally invasive surgery, make several procedures less invasive, allowing patients to recover and return to their chosen sports faster.

Cause of Condition

The exact cause of a sports injury will depend on the exact type of injury. However, most injuries involve the muscles, ligaments, or tendons. When these are stretched too far too quickly, they’ll tear. Severe tears will require surgery, but minor ones typically heal without medical intervention or medications other than pain relievers.

Another common sports injury is a fracture. Fractures require immediate medical attention, not only to relieve the pain but also to set the bone back to its proper form. It will take months for the bone to heal.

Dislocations are also extremely painful injuries. However, a sports doctor or a trainer who is trained in sports medicine will be able to return the dislocated joint to its proper position thus relieving much of the pain.

Not all sports injuries occur suddenly. Chronic sports injuries develop slowly over time. For instance, runners often risk a variety of chronic sports injuries that are often microscopic. These injuries develop slowly and are caused by repeated actions.

A person’s physical attributes and bone architecture may also cause sports injuries. Some of the most common are an uneven leg length, flat feet, overly high arches, bowlegged, and knock-kneed. Structural conditions, such as lumbar lordosis, high Q-angle, and patella alta also increase a person’s risk of incurring a sports injury.

Key Symptoms

Pain is the common symptom of a wide range of sports injuries. However, the degree of pain is typically not indicative of the extent of an injury. Athletes, for example, are trained to ignore a certain level of pain and many athletes push through a painful experience in the hopes of improving their skills or physical resistance.

Doing so can result in incurring a sports injury without realizing the extent of the condition. For example, a lumbar strain normally begins with minor back pains that weight lifters normally ignore. However, continuing the exercise routine often results in a sudden deterioration of the condition accompanied by extreme pain and back spasms.

Other than pain, swelling and redness of the affected area is a common sign of a sports injury. When these appear, it’s imperative to have a doctor diagnose the extent of the injury and undergo treatment to prevent permanent damage. For instance, many amateur athletes have a tendency to push through despite the presence of signs and symptoms of tendon injuries. Unfortunately, continuing the exercise routine without giving enough time for the tendons to heal will result in a condition called mucoid degeneration, which is when inflexible fibrous materials replace a torn tendon.

Who to See & Types of Treatment Available

If you experience a sudden excruciating pain or pain that refuses to go away after a certain time, it’s best that you consult a sports doctor. However, if a sports doctor is not available, your family doctor should be able to diagnose your condition and provide treatment, or refer you to a specialist.

The consultation will begin with an interview on how the injury occurred. This is followed by a physical examination to check for visible signs of fracture. If the doctor believes that the condition is severe, an imaging test, such as an x-ray to examine your skeletal structure and check for signs of damage will be performed.

If you do not require surgery, the doctor will initiate a treatment program that is based on the R.I.C.E. principle, Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation. Getting enough rest prevents an injury from worsening while the use of ice reduces pain and inflammation. Meanwhile, compression and elevation prevent fluid from building up in the area and reduce swelling.

If you do require surgery, most sports doctors prefer to use minimally invasive techniques to limit the amount of damage and allow faster recovery times.

Everyone who participates in sports will incur some form of sports injury in one way or another. As, it is impossible to perfect a skill without making mistakes, sports injuries are often inevitable. What’s important is that the body is allowed to recover from the injury and that the person learns from the mistake to prevent a similar injury.

Another way to prevent injuries is to train under a qualified sports trainer. Trainers are highly knowledgeable and received an adequate amount of training, helping you learn the proper posture and methods to quickly build skill while limiting the risks of an injury. They will also be able to detect the signs and symptoms of a sports injury before they cause any serious damage.

References:

  • Drezner JA, Harmon KG, O'Kane JW. Sports medicine. Rakel RE, Rakel DP, eds. Textbook of Family Medicine. 8th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2011:chap 29.
  • Lauerman W, Russo M. Thoracolumbar spine disorders in the adult. In: Miller MD, Thompson SR, eds. DeLee and Drez's Orthopaedic Sports Medicine: Principles and Practice. 4th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2014:chap 128.
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