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Sports-Related Injuries

Sports-Related Injuries: What You Need to Know

  • A sports-related injury may result from a single traumatic event, such as a fall or collision, or from overuse when the body does not have time to heal from a repeated action.

  • Overuse injuries are becoming more common among U.S. children and adolescents as young athletes are increasingly specializing in one sport. Playing a single sport year-round may increase a child’s risk for injury.

  • Cross-train to strengthen different muscle groups and avoid overuse.

  • Prevent injuries from collisions or falls by wearing protective gear and using appropriate equipment for your sport. Make sure playing fields are well-maintained.

  • Treat injuries with RICE (rest, apply ice, wrap the area for compression and elevate the injured limb). If soreness or pain persists, seek medical care. Don’t “play through the pain.”

Most sports injuries are due to either trauma or overuse of muscles or joints. The majority are caused by minor trauma involving muscles, ligaments, tendons, or bones, including:

  • Contusions (bruises)

  • Sprains

  • Strains

  • Fractures

  • Dislocations

What is a contusion?

A contusion (bruise) is an injury to the soft tissue. It is often caused by blunt force such as a kick, fall, or blow. The immediate result will be pain, swelling, and discoloration.

What is a sprain?

Football player with a knee injury.

A sprain is a stretch or tear of a ligament. Ligaments are flexible bands of fibrous tissue that connect bones to bones, and bones to cartilage. They also hold together the bones in your joints. Sprains often affect the ankles, knees, or wrists.

Learn more about ligament injuries to the knee.

What is a strain?

A strain is twist, pull or tear of a muscle or tendon, and is often caused by overuse, force, or stretching. A tendon is a tough cord of tissue that connects muscles to bones.

Read more about sprains and strains in children.

Some examples of strains are:

  • Tennis elbow (lateral epicondylitis). Lateral epicondylitis, also known as tennis elbow, is characterized by pain in the back side of the elbow and forearm, along the thumb side when the arm is alongside the body with the thumb turned away. The pain is caused by damage to the tendons that bend the wrist backward away from the palm.

  • Golfer's or baseball elbow (medial epicondylitis). Medial epicondylitis, also known as golfer's elbow, is characterized by pain from the elbow to the wrist on the palm side of the forearm. The pain is caused by damage to the tendons that bend the wrist toward the palm.

  • Lumbar strain. A lumbar strain is an injury to the lower back, which results in damaged tendons and muscles that spasm and feel sore. Trauma of great force can injure the tendons and muscles in the lower back. Pushing and pulling sports, such as weight lifting or football, can lead to a lumbar strain. In addition, sports that need sudden twisting of the lower back, such as basketball, baseball, and golf can lead to this injury.

  • Jumper's knee. Jumper's knee, also known as patellar tendonitis, is a condition characterized by inflammation of the patellar tendon, which connects the kneecap to shin bone (tibia). The condition may be caused by overuse of the knee joint, such as frequent jumping on hard surfaces.

  • Runner's knee. Runner's knee, also known as patellofemoral stress syndrome, is when the patella, or kneecap, does not move well in the groove of the femur (thigh bone). Runner's knee may be caused by a structural defect, or a certain way of walking or running.

What is a fracture?

Fractures are breaks in the bone that are often caused by a blow or a fall. A fracture can range from a simple hairline fracture (a thin fracture that may not run through the entire bone) to a compound fracture, in which the broken bone protrudes through the skin. Most fractures happen in the arms and legs.

Stress fractures are weak spots or small cracks in the bone caused by continuous overuse. Stress fractures often happen in the foot or leg after training for gymnastics, running, and other sports. The bones in the midfoot (metatarsals) in runners are especially vulnerable to stress fractures.

What is a dislocation?

A dislocation happens when extreme force is put on a ligament, allowing the ends of two connected bones to separate. Stress on joint ligaments can lead to dislocation of the joint.

Preventing Sports Injuries

10 Tips for Preventing Sports Injuries in Kids and Teens

Young athletes today push themselves harder than ever before, which means they’re at greater risk for sports-related injuries. Pediatric sports medicine expert R. Jay Lee provides 10 injury prevention tips to prevent injury.

Learn how to help keep your young athlete safe.

5 Tips for Preventing Sports-Related Injuries

Many sports injuries result from pushing our bodies past our current physical limits or level of conditioning. Sports medicine expert Dr. Andrew Cosgarea shares advice for injury prevention.

Keep these tips in mind to avoid getting hurt.

Preventing ACL Tears: 4 Tips for Women and Girls

Sports injury prevention isn’t a one-stop shop when it comes to male and female athletes, especially for injuries like ACL tears, which are four to eight times more common among women than men. Women’s sports medicine expert and orthopaedic surgeon Miho Tanaka explains how women can prevent this common injury.

Read Preventing ACL Tears: 4 Tips for Girls and Women.

Dance Injuries: Diagnosis, Treatment and Prevention

Johns Hopkins orthopedist Raj Deu, M.D., and physical therapists Andrea Lasner and Amanda Greene discuss dance injuries, treatments and the preventative measures dancers can take to stay at the top of their performance.

Read Ask the Expert: Common Dance Injuries and Prevention Tips.

Heat-Related Illness and Young Athletes: 3 Important Things Parents and Coaches Need to Know

Heat-related illness is a serious concern for everyone who is exercising during extreme summer heat. Most at risk are young athletes who may not know when to take a break and cool down. Johns Hopkins primary care and sports medicine expert Dr. Raj Deu explains what parents and coaches can do.

Learn how to prevent children from experiencing heat-related illness.

Rehabilitation for sports injuries

A rehabilitation program for sports injuries is designed to meet the needs of the individual patient, depending on the type and severity of the injury. Active involvement of the patient and family is vital to the success of the program.

The goal of rehabilitation after an amputation is to help the patient return to the highest level of function and independence possible, while improving the overall quality of life--physically, emotionally, and socially.

In order to help reach these goals, sports injury rehabilitation programs may include the following:

  • Activity restrictions

  • Physical or occupational therapy

  • Exercise programs to stretch and strengthen the area

  • Conditioning exercises to help prevent further injury

  • Heat or cold applications and whirlpool treatments

  • Applications of braces, splints, or casts to immobilize the area

  • Use of crutches or wheelchairs

  • Pain management techniques

  • Patient and family education

The sports injury rehabilitation team

Rehabilitation programs for sports injuries are usually conducted on an outpatient basis. Many skilled professionals are part of the sports injury rehabilitation team, including any or all of the following:

  • Orthopedist/orthopedic surgeon

  • Physiatrist

  • Physical therapist

  • Occupational therapist

  • Exercise physiologist

  • Sports medicine specialist

  • Athletic trainer

More Information About Sports-Related Injuries in the Health Library

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