7 Common Sports Injuries: Causes, Prevention, and Treatment
The body is an incredible machine. It can heal and protect itself, so long as the mind listens and adapts to the body’s needs. That includes respecting any injury that might occur. Just like all machines, the body can break down. But with regular maintenance and check-ups, small accidents are unlikely to result in long-term damage. Here’s common types of sports injuries, their causes, prevention, and treatment.
The information provided in this blog post is for guidance purposes only and does not substitute for professional medical advice. You should always consult a medical professional or healthcare provider if you’re seeking medical advice.
Table of contents:
7 Common Sports Injuries
1. Medial Collateral Ligament and Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) Tear
Knee pain from running and other sports is extremely common. After all, knees absorb impact from below and above. While running is NOT intrinsically bad for the knees, overuse, impact, or quick changes in direction can cause problems. Examples include runner’s knee, jumper’s knee, and pes anserinus syndrome. Moreover, two muscle tears around the knee are extremely common and, unfortunately, require intense treatment.
- Cause: The anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) is a band of tissues that connect the thigh bone to the shin on the lateral of the knee. ACL tears usually happen during a sudden change of movement. Most ACL injuries feel like a “pop” in the knee followed by swelling, instability, and pain. The medial collateral ligament (MCL) also connects the thigh to the shin. But, the connection is on the medial side of the knee. Most athletes with an MCL tear feel a locked or caught sensation in the inner knee, followed by extreme tenderness.
- Prevention: Workouts for runner’s knee help to strengthen this area. Agility-focused cardiovascular workouts, like running through cones and around obstacles. Practice proper squat form, focusing on keeping knees pushed outward/ lateral (versus dropping toward the center). Pilates includes exercises for knee pain that focus on balance, strength, and connective tissues around the thighs and hips. Strengthen the hamstrings and lateral leg muscles. Be extra careful when exercising on artificial turf. Consider wearing knee pads during contact sports or those with a high likelihood of falling (like sky running).
- Treatment: An ACL injury is served best with rest. Many physicians recommend taking medicine for pain and inflammation, as well as wearing a knee brace. A total or deep partial tear can require surgery and wearing a brace for months. During the treatment process, with a doctor’s approval, cycling is usually a safe option.(1, 2)
Side lunges strengthen the lateral leg muscles.
2. Rotator Cuff Tear
- Cause: The rotator cuff actually refers to a group of muscles and tendons surrounding the shoulder joint. They work to stabilize the upper arm bone within the socket, especially during movement or isometric holds. Older adults and people who repeatedly perform overhead movements (like painters) are highly susceptible to rotator cuff injuries. An untreated rotator cuff injury can lead to extreme weakness or a “frozen shoulder” (this is when the tissues in the shoulder become so thick and tight they lose all mobility).
- Prevention: Training with light hand weights in repetitive, small arm motions is fantastic for building rotator cuff mobility and strength. Try fitness classes like Barre and Pilates. Yoga helps increase flexibility and stamina in small rotator muscles as well. Bodyweight back workouts are phenomenal, as well as upper-body workouts focusing on the deltoids.
- Treatment: Less extreme rotator cuff injuries require rest. But complete or intense partial tears can require surgery and months of rest. Then, targeted physical therapy.(3)
Low side plank twists are a rotator cuff workout that strengthen shoulder stabilizer muscles.
3. Blunt-force Impact
- Cause: While blunt-force impact injuries most often occur during contact sports (like rugby), they can happen any time an athlete falls or collides with an object. Even solo sports like trail running present plenty of opportunities to run into or trip over another object. During a collision the following may occur: shearing (slipping and stretching of the organs from their normal placement), crushing, concussions, breathlessness, dislocations, and fractures (more on those later). Injuries to the skin like contusions (bruises), abrasions (scrapes), and lacerations (deeper wounds) are common. A very bad bruise can cause thrombosis, which is damage to a vein that could result in a blood clot.
- Prevention: The only true prevention for blunt force impact is abstinence from sport. But the consequences of not being fit are definitely worse than the unlikely event of a fall. Instead, ensure that you’ve taken care of your physical and emotional self before exercising. Have a snack before starting. Take time to warm up and cool down. Plan your running route beforehand (the adidas Running app can help with this). Be careful to put weights back on the rack. Wear proper protective gear, like helmets and reflective clothing. Work out with a buddy. Physically, balance training is an obvious preventative measure to falling. Cross-training also increases coordination. Try yoga, weight lifting, Pilates, and bodyweight workouts alongside your normal sports and cardio (PS: the adidas Training app has great cross-training ideas).
- Treatment: It’s imperative to get immediate medical attention for bleeding and extreme joint pain. Blunt-force impacts that do not require medical attention do still require rest. When the skin or bones are bruised, the muscles surrounding them can become tense and immovable. This may take weeks, even months, to subside. Try to avoid using the injured area physically until the pain is gone.(4)
4. Dislocation and Fracture
- Causes: Data shows that 20.6% of all emergency room visits in the USA for sport-related injuries are bone fractures and 3.6% are dislocations. Fingers are the most commonly broken and shoulders are the most commonly dislocated. Inline skaters and gymnasts are the most likely to suffer, but all athletes are at risk. Dislocations and fractures usually occur during a collision. In both cases, the joint/bone will be immobilized, painful, swollen, and visibly irregular or deformed.
- Prevention: The best prevent for bone issues (other than avoid collisions) is to create more dynamic mobility in the joint and surrounding tissues. Cross-training, balance and flexibility work, proper warm-ups and cool-downs will all help prevent injuries and recover more quickly. If the fingers are already sensitive, consider wrapping two fingers together with sports tape. Be sure to continue physical therapy for previous injuries long after the pain has subsided, as that space is more likely to be weak and re-injured.
- Treatment: Do not attempt to move a potentially dislocated or fractured bone. Call emergency services if there is blood or the injured person is unresponsive. In the longer-term, the injured bones will require lots of rest (anywhere from several weeks to a year). Physical therapy is appropriate if the pain lasts longer than a week and starts to impact other parts of the body or create compensatory movement patterns. Surgery may be required.(5)
Lunge twists work every muscle in the body and strengthen the stabilizing core muscles.
5. Tennis Elbow and Golfer’s Elbow
- Cause: Tennis elbow and golfer’s elbow do not just affect tennis players and golfers. Any athlete or professional who uses their forearm muscles repeatedly and regularly can suffer. Both are a result of tiny tears in the muscle caused by inflammation of the tissues around the elbow. Tennis elbow pain is felt on the outside of the elbow. Golfer’s elbow creates pain on the inside of the elbow.
- Prevention: Surprisingly, lack of mobility in the wrist and shoulder are often culprits of elbow pain. Include wrist and shoulder warm-ups, activation, and mobilization exercises in your normal workouts. Consider doing them before any activity that requires repetitive arm movements, like gardening or typing on a laptop.
- Treatment: An injured elbow can get better with time and rest. Cold compresses during moments of pain help reduce inflammation as does a diet of anti-inflammatory foods. A physical therapist may also provide wrist, elbow, and shoulder exercises. In very bad cases, surgery may be required to remove damaged tissues.(6)
Stretching the shoulders and wrists before a workout can help with elbow pain.
6. Groin Strain and Sports Hernia
- Cause: Sports hernias are clinically named athletic pubalgia. These and general groin strains are most common to athletes who change direction quickly, tennis players. Sports that require frequent twisting and bending (like rowing) can also cause groin strains. These injuries are more typically related to overuse. But, any biomechanical pattern could cause these injuries. For instance, many people have one leg that’s longer than the other. These kinds of muscle imbalances can cause problems throughout the kinetic chain that put pressure on the groin during movement. Long-distance runners, women with relative osteoporosis, and anyone with nutritional and hormonal imbalances are also susceptible to groin injuries.
- Prevention: The best way to prevent any injury around the pelvis is with hip stretching and stability exercises. Lower and deep core work are very beneficial. Getting to know your own muscle imbalances is important. Then, you can train in such a way as to strengthen opposing muscles and correct postural imbalances. Because having strong bones is a big precursor to a healthy pelvis, proper sports nutrition is key (i.e., enough calories, enough macronutrients, and enough micronutrients). Finally, changes in the training surface or shoes can cause groin strain. Start with shorter workouts when venturing out onto new terrain or wearing new shoes.
- Treatment: Generally speaking, it’s best to avoid intense physical movements until the pain subsides. Because issues in the groin and pelvis are so difficult to diagnose, most cases require sports physiotherapy. The sports physician will determine the rehabilitation plan based on the location of the tear. Some types of injury require rest, while others require more aggressive movement therapy. In the worst case scenario, surgery may be required.(7,8,9)
Single leg bridges are a great way to strengthen the muscles of the pelvis and low back.
7. Hamstring injury
- Cause: Hamstring tears and pulled hamstrings most often occur when one pushes off the ground to walk, run, or climb. For folks with very weak or tight hamstrings, this injury can even occur when standing up from a seated position. Any one of the three hamstrings muscles may be affected. Older adults are more likely to suffer from hamstring injury than young people.
- Prevention: The best way to prevent hamstring issues is by training them with strength and flexibility workouts. Simply exercises like deadlifts and seated forward folds go a long way.
- Treatment: Hamstring pain is difficult to treat because it affects so many basic actions, like moving from seated to standing. It can heal on its own with rest. But in case of intense pain, walking with a cane or crutches helps. Icing the area and wrapping it can keep inflammation down. Consider working with a physiotherapist if the pain does not subside on its own in three weeks. With physical therapy, the recovery time typically takes six to eight weeks.(10)
Moving in and out of this stretch is a dynamic warm-up for hamstring mobility.
Nutritional Advice for Sports Injuries
When recovering from a sports injury, one of the best things you can do is eat well. Here is a list of micro- and macronutrients that can aid in recovery. We recommend eating whole, fresh foods containing these nutrients.
1. Protein-rich foods
2. Vitamin C
Collagen rebuilds tissues and is anti-inflammatory. Citrus fruit and leafy green vegetables are rich in Vitamin C, which helps the body to produce collagen.
3. Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Omega-3s are anti-inflammatory and building blocks for the body’s cellular recovery processes. Salmon, sardines, chia seeds, walnuts, and soybeans are all-natural sources of Omega-3 fats.
4. Calcium and Vitamin D
Fractures, dislocations, and sports hernias are all related to weak or impacted bones. Calcium builds bones. Milk, cheese, yogurt, some fish, almonds, and kale are all great sources of calcium. But without Vitamin D, the body cannot absorb calcium. So eat some egg yolks or go for a jog in the sun! Both fill you up with Vitamin D.
Prevention is The Best Medicine
Unfortunately, most athletes will at some point find themselves injured. It’s part of being alive, of having a complex body and love of movement! But the best way to prevent an injury is to be thoughtful about movement, health, and body awareness. Cross-training, taking time to recover, eating well, and listening to your body are, ultimately, the best medicine for sports injuries.