sports injuries

Primary Care | 3 months ago

The 5 Most Common Sports Injuries and How to Recognize Them

Learn about the 5 most common sports injuries and how to recognize them, with help from our sports medicine specialists.

Engaging in sports or daily activities can expose individuals to various injuries. From sprains and strains to concussions, here are the five most common sports injuries we see, along with symptoms, treatment options and prevention strategies.

1. Sprains and Strains

Sprains involve a stretching or tearing injury to the ligament that connects your bones together, often caused by abnormal joint rotation. Athletes may commonly experience acute pain, swelling and difficulty bearing weight. Treatment for a sprain often involves the PRICE protocol (protection, rest, ice, compression, elevation), with the crucial period being the first 24 to 48 hours.

Strains affect your muscles or tendons and result from excessive stretching. These injuries may be caused by fatigue, lack of flexibility and inadequate warm-up. Athletes may experience pain, tenderness, swelling or muscle spasms. Treatment includes gentle stretches after 48 hours and a gradual return to activity.

2. Bone Stress Injuries

Stress injuries, can include stress fractures and conditions like shin splints, which typically result from overuse, causing bone breakdown. Athletes commonly experience pain at the site of the injury that often increases during or after activity.

Treatment involves:

  •  Modifying activities
  • Possibly cross-training
  • Evaluating mechanics like foot posture


Prevention strategies include stretching, wearing supportive shoes and gradually building up activity levels.

3. Tendinitis

Tendinitis is inflammation of your tendons due to repetitive stress, which can occur in various locations on the body. Athletes may have increased pain with activity and swelling around the affected tendon.

Treatment involves:

  • The PRICE protocol
  • Anti-inflammatory medication
  • Targeted stretches and exercises


Prevention focuses on proper warm-up, stretching and avoiding overuse.

4. Fractures

Fractures, or broken bones, exhibit symptoms like pain, swelling and limitations in joint motion. Contrary to common misconceptions, the ability to move a joint does not rule out a fracture. Treatment involves:

  • Immobilization with casts or braces
  • Immediate ice application
  • Rehabilitation to restore strength and stability


Prevention is crucial in high-risk sports, emphasizing appropriate protective equipment.

5. Concussion

A concussion is an injury to the brain that can result from a direct or indirect blow to the body, causing force to be transmitted to the head or from any sudden, rapid movement of the head. This disrupts the normal function of the brain. Concussion symptoms can manifest immediately or be delayed for 24 to 36 hours after the incident.

Typical symptoms include:

  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Dizziness
  • Blurred vision
  • Sensitivity to light and noise
  • Feeling slowed down, as if in a fog
  • Difficulty concentrating and remembering
  • Emotional changes and irritability


Athletes experiencing these symptoms should seek medical evaluation promptly. Delayed presentation may lead to prolonged symptoms and delayed recovery to activity.

Treatment may involve:

  • Relative rest
  • Modification of school activity for student-athletes
  • Rehabilitation therapies based on specific problem areas


Certain signs warrant immediate emergency medical attention, including falling unprotected, lying motionless, uncoordinated movements, an open head injury, seizure, severe increasing headache, vomiting or deteriorating state of consciousness.

Athletes should return to activity gradually to ensure exertion is well-tolerated before resuming full activity, especially in contact sports. Most sports organizations have mandated rules for the return to play.

While headgear can decrease scalp or facial injuries, it does not entirely prevent concussions. Proper sports techniques, such as heads-up tackling in football, can potentially decrease the risk. Emphasis should be placed on ensuring the resolution of all symptoms and undergoing a proper return-to-play protocol to optimize recovery.

Beyond the Top 5

Another common sports-related injury that falls somewhat outside these categories is plantar fasciitis. This is an inflammation of the plantar fascia ligament that connects the heel of the foot to the toes and supports the foot’s arch. It is not quite a sprain or strain and doesn’t fall within the tendinitis category because it involves a ligament.

The plantar fascia absorbs and supports the foot under high-stress activities such as walking, running and standing. We more commonly see this injury in active individuals between the ages of 40 and 60. Its common symptoms include pain on the heel that is worse in the morning with the first step out of bed. Pain can increase throughout the day with weight-bearing activity.

A combination of treatments is essential to reduce pain and improve flexibility. These include wearing supportive shoes, arch support orthotics, stretching the plantar fascia throughout the night with a plantar fascia night splint and avoiding going barefoot. Icing the heel and stretching regularly throughout the day is helpful, as is engaging in physical therapy exercises to stretch the calf muscles and improve the ankle range of motion.

While it is impossible to entirely prevent sports injuries, understanding the characteristics, symptoms and treatments can help minimize the risk of these injuries and allow for a safe and healthy return to physical activities.

If you or a loved one experience an injury or pain, schedule a same- or next-day appointment with one of our sports medicine specialists at 704-863-HURT (4878) or