How to Care for the Most Common Athletic Injuries

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Most Common Sports Injuries

According to surveys done in many US hospitals, the most common causes for emergency room visits secondary to sports injuries are:

  • Strains – involve overstretching of muscles or their tendons (the tissue that connects muscles to bone), resulting in a tear; thus these can also be called muscle tear or pulled muscle.
  • Sprains – involve sudden stretching of ligaments (tissues that connect one bone to another, especially in a joint), resulting in deformity or tearing of the ligament.
  • Fractures – a break or sudden deformity of bones
  • Contusions or abrasions – superficial damage to the skin and capillaries which are relatively minor.

Some surveys also include the following in younger children:

  • Growth plate injuries – fractures on the end of developing long bones in children
  • Repetitive motion injuries – may include stress or hairline fractures and tendinitis (inflammation of a tendon)
  • Heat-related illnesses – due to dehydration, heat stroke or heat exhaustion

In particular, the common injuries in adults are:

  • Hamstring strains - caused by overstretching of the muscles at the back of the thigh when hurdling, skiing and running
  • Groin pull – strain of the inner thigh muscles acquired while playing hockey, soccer, baseball and football
  • Tennis elbow - involves injury due to repetitive use of the elbow, such as in tennis and golf
  • Shin splints – pain in the lower leg which may be due to strenuous running and may result in hairline fracture
  • Knee injury from ACL tear – the anterior cruciate ligament which connects the leg and the knee is commonly torn

Preventing Athletic Injuries

To prevent the common athletic injuries, children, athletes, trainers and parents must be aware of some guidelines:

  • Wearing proper attire, including sports shoes, protective gear and using appropriate equipment are necessary to maintain comfort and safety during sports.
  • One must be well nourished and hydrated before, during and after sports as needed and as appropriate to one’s condition. Eating a well balanced diet to sustain energy levels and avoid hypoglycemia, and maintaining proper weight are essential.
  • Another key in safety is performing warm-up and stretching exercises before sports to condition the muscles and other structures. These will avoid sudden stretching or tearing of muscles, tendons and ligaments.

How to Care for Common Sports Injuries

Injuries from simple bumps, falls and overstretching usually manifest as mild to moderate pain or limitation of motion. However, some injuries are visible as a broken part, a deformity, a swelling, or a bleeding site.

General principles on how to care for these injuries are summarized in a mnemonic device, PRICE, where:

P – Protect the involved part from further injury by applying a splint, pad or crutch.

R – Restrict activity to avoid worsening of the injury.

I – Apply Ice immediately on the injury to decrease swelling. Ice may be placed over the injured part for 20 minutes every 2-3 hours for the first 48 hours.

C – Compress when bleeding, or apply elastic bandages to decrease swelling.

E – Elevate the injured area to a level above the heart to decrease swelling.

Pain is usually decreased by the above measures, but pain medications may also be needed. Over the counter drugs such as paracetamol, ibuprofen and naproxen may help relieve the pain. However, if pain is intolerable, it may be necessary to seek medical help, especially if these symptoms are observed:

  • Uncontrolled bleeding
  • Deformity of a joint, bone protrusion or open fracture
  • Large hematoma or skin discoloration that is more than just mild bruising
  • Excessive swelling
  • Inability to move or bear weight on a limb
  • Symptoms of heat exhaustion and dehydration include dizziness, headache, weakness, pale moist skin, confusion and fainting. Immediate medical attention is needed when one is not relieved by hydration and cooling methods.
  • Changes in sensory and mental function, such as confusion and fainting, and other symptoms like difficulty in breathing.

Knowing when to call for emergency medical services is necessary to save life and limb.


WebMD, “The Seven Most Common Sports Injuries” accessed 12/07/10

NIAMS, “Sports Injuries” accessed 12/07/10

NIAMS, “Sprains and Strains” accessed 12/07/10