What is a sports injury?

When you play sport, or do any sort of exercise, injuries can happen. And you don’t have to be a sports professional to be affected – you could get an injury going for a jog or during a workout at the gym.

Sports injuries can range from minor to severe and complex, and they can be caused by overuse or sudden trauma. The most common injuries include cuts and abrasions, severe sprains and torn ligaments.

Sports injuries affect your musculoskeletal system

The complicated working of your bones, joints, muscles, ligaments and tendons, as well as your nerves, is often referred to as your musculoskeletal system.

Your musculoskeletal system allows movement and flexibility of your body – the free movement of your joints is essential to staying active. Exercise can help your joints stay flexible and keep your muscles strong. However, if exercising, you should stop activities that cause pain.

Consisting of calcium, phosphate and other minerals, they make up your skeleton.

The smooth covering on the ends of your bones.

Fibrous bands of tissue connecting your bones together.

Tough cords of inelastic fibrous tissue, connecting your muscles to your bones.

Fibrous tissue that contracts to produce a particular movement.

Bundles of fibres that carry messages to and from the brain to allow movement and sensation.

What should I do if I suffer a sports injury?

There are some basic measures you can take if you suffer a sports injury, in order to prevent further damage.

Rest – If you’ve injured your leg, take your weight off it and avoid continued movement. If it’s your arm, avoid lifting anything and try to keep it still. You can progressively and gently start to load the area after the acute phase of injury. As a rough guide this is after 48-72 hours, but this depends on injury location, severity and pain.

Ice – The use of ice, even for as little as five minutes, can have a marked effect on pain. You’re on the slopes, there’s plenty of it around, but create an ice pack rather than placing ice directly onto your skin, which can burn. Typically no individual body area will require continued ice application for greater then 20-30 minutes. Reapplication of ice should be guided by pain and discomfort.

Compress – Wrapping your injured area with an elastic bandage, for example, can help decrease swelling. Be careful not to wrap it too tightly though, because this can cut off circulation to the area below the bandage and cause further swelling.

Elevate – Finally elevate the affected area in line with or above your heart level. This will also help to reduce the swelling. There is no rule on the length of required time; however the more distal (furthest away from your trunk) body areas are likely to require longer periods of time.

What's the difference between a strain and a sprain?

A sprain is a stretched or torn ligament (the tissue that holds bones together at a joint).

A strain is a stretched or torn muscle or tendon (the tough tissue at the end of a muscle that connects it to a bone).

Sprains and strains can vary in severity, and can be caused by falling, twisting, pulling or getting hit.

Symptoms of sprains and strains are similar and include:

  • localised pain
  • swelling
  • bruising
  • muscle spasms
  • difficulty moving your joint or muscle

Common sports injuries

Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) tear

The most common injury to the ACL that needs surgery is a tear to the ligament after landing awkwardly, often from playing sport, such as football, skiing, squash or tennis. Tears to this ligament can be partial or complete.

What are the symptoms of a torn ACL?

Symptoms of a torn ACL can include swelling, severe pain, an unstable knee and a popping or cracking sound at the time of injury.

How do you treat an ACL tear?

Treatment is almost always needed for complete ACL tears as they will never heal by themselves.

Minor tears will heal with physiotherapy – but if no treatment is given, the injury can become more severe and the knee further injured.

There are a number of procedures to treat a complete ACL tear. The most common method is called a reconstruction – this uses a tendon from elsewhere in the body to replace the ACL. An ACL reconstruction involves staying in hospital for usually two days, followed by intense physiotherapy.

Achilles tendon injuries

The Achilles tendon is the largest and strongest tendon in your body. It passes behind your ankle to connect your calf muscle to your heel. Stretches and tears are the most common injuries of the Achilles tendon.

What are the symptoms of an Achilles tendon injury?

Symptoms of an Achilles tendon injury include:

  • pain
  • swelling
  • bruising

Symptoms may happen suddenly or gradually, depending on the activity that causes the injury. For example, if you jump and damage your Achilles tendon, you'll often feel intense and sudden pain.

How do you treat an Achilles tendon injury?

Physiotherapy treatment can settle many Achilles tendon problems, though if the tendon is completely torn, surgery may be needed. An ultrasound or MRI is best to diagnose an Achilles tendon injury.

If you’ve torn the tendon, you’ll need to see an orthopaedic Consultant and you will have to be treated at a hospital. Any surgery for this type of injury requires a general anaesthetic. After surgery, a physiotherapist will give you some exercises to do. It usually takes about three to four months to get back to normal.

Rotator cuff tendon injury

There are four tendons that hold the shoulder joint in place, called rotator cuff tendons. You can get problems when these are damaged or swollen or there are changes to the surrounding bones.

What are the symptoms of a rotator cuff injury?

Symptoms of a rotator cuff injury include:

  • Pain when you reach overheard or behind your neck
  • Restricted shoulder movement
  • Shoulder weakness
  • A deep ache in the shoulder area
  • Pain that gets worse at night

How is a rotator cuff injury treated?

Sometimes impingement or small tears of the rotator cuff get better on their own with the help of anti-inflammatory painkillers and a change in the activity that may have caused them. A steroid and local anaesthetic injection into your shoulder can sometime reduce pain. However if you have a large tear or your symptoms continue to get worse an operation may be your only option.

Ankle sprain

The most common ankle injury is a sprain resulting from small stretches and tears in the ankle ligament.

What are the symptoms of an ankle injury?

Symptoms of a rotator cuff injury include:

  • pain
  • swelling
  • bruising
  • difficulty standing or moving your foot

How is an ankle injury treated?

Treating an ankle injury firstly involves time and rest, especially if you're not able to stand properly. Painkiller medication can help relieve pain while you're recovering. In some cases physiotherapy may be recommended. And in serious cases, surgery may also be a possibility.

Visit our Sports Injury Health Topic for a list of conditions, symptoms, treatments and tests concerning men's health, as well as great advice and information articles.