14 Most Common Sports Injuries – and How to Prevent Them!



Youth_Basketball_injury correctThe single most important practice in teaching or coaching ANY sport is injury prevention! Warm up exercises are a key element and should always be the first step before any practice or game begins.  This is all too often overlooked or completely ignored at every level of sports activities.

Can you honestly say that you and all your players are prepared before undertaking strenuous exercise?  Warm ups will help to circulate the blood around your body to the specific regions you are working.  Your joints are lubricated with fluid and cartilage and your muscles are bound in Fascia which is always stiff before being warmed up.  The joints are very sensitive structures which are lubricated with fluids, cartilage, and other materials.  Warming up all of these ligaments, muscles and joints prepares you for strenuous exercise and greatly reduces the chance of injury.

It is also important to slow down the exercise towards the end of practice to allow the muscles and other tissues to repair themselves quicker.  Your warm ups should begin with light stretching and gradually increase as the body begins to heat.  You will be pleased with the results!  Your athletes will perform better and there will be less down time due to injury.  It’s better for your players and its better for you! Build a routine for warming up and stick with it every time.


“R.I.C.E.”  REMEMBER THIS ACRONYM! Its defines the treatment for the vast majority of all sports related injuries immediately after they occur.

R – Rest – this is your first step in treatment – Stop the athlete from continuing the practice or the game and immobilize the injured body part.

I – Ice should be applied as quickly as possible.  Keep a sufficient supply of ice packs in your back pack first aid kit.  Ice will help to relieve the pain and reduce swelling which is caused by internal bleeding.  Ice should be applied for about 15 minutes every few hours for the first 24 to 48 hours.  Be sure to place a barrier between the ice pack and the skin to avoid skin bur and discomfort.

C – Compression – Bandage the affected part as best as possible to control swelling.  Use a bandage or sports wrap and secure firmly but not too tightly.  Occasionally make sure it’s not too tight.  If there is any restriction of circulation – unwrap immediately and apply a loser wrap.

E – Elevation – Elevate the injured body part as best as possible to help reduce swelling.  The elevated limb should be above heart level for the first 24 to 48 hours.  Gravity will help reduce swelling and if the limb is lower, pressure will build, which increases pain and slows down the healing process.  Restrict  all movement and rest the limb as best as possible.

1. HEAD – Injuries to the head are the most common injuries associated with sporting activities.  These types of injuries can be life threatening and must be treated seriously.  All head injuries should be reported to a parent or guardian and the patient should be seen by a doctor.  It is always difficult to tell the extent of a head injury so initial diagnosis treatment is critical.  The three main conditions of head injuries are:  Concussion, Compression, and Skull Fracture.

Proper first aid training is critical to ensure the best outcome from immediate head injury treatment before paramedics arrive on scene.

2. NECK – Your neck acts as the main source of support for your head and normally moves freely forward, backward, and side to side which allows us to turn our heads.  Flexibility in the neck is paramount for all athletes to move their entire correctly.  The main cause of neck pain is due to overuse which occurs in lengthy practices or excessive play time.  It is extremely important to rest your players sufficiently to avoid overuse of any of the muscle groups.

All throwing sports and gymnastics are especially susceptible for overuse and neck strains.  The neck can be sprained by a stretching or tearing of the ligament.  There can also be possible damage to the neck joint, muscle, or disc.  Recovery from a neck injury can be lengthy and will require assistance from a therapist or physician.  Remember, coach; not diagnosing or neglecting the signs and symptoms of a neck injury can lead to paralysis, or even death. Pay attention to your players report of pain and injuries.  Do not encourage athletes or your players to play hurt – you’ll only make matters worse for you and for your team.

Proper first aid training is critical to learn how to stabilize the head and neck, which must be done immediately when a neck or spine injury is suspected before paramedics arrive on scene.

3. SHOULDER – The usual cause for a shoulder injury is contact with ground or any hard object.  Another major cause of shoulder injury is overuse and excessive training.  Strain in repetitive motion will almost certainly cause shoulder pain and injury without proper strengthening.  Symptoms of shoulder injuries are sudden pain and immobility of the shoulder joint.  A shoulders strain is caused when a muscle or tendon is torn or partially torn.  Overuse injury symptoms will gradually increase in pain but get worse when the athlete continues to use the shoulder.

Treatment for shoulder strains and injuries include immobilizing the entire shoulder joint (Sling)  Immediately apply ice packs to the affected area and repeat every 2 -3 hours.  Ice will reduce swelling and stimulate blood flow to and away from the injured area.  Try to avoid the heat penetrating creams and salves as this will lengthen the recovery time.   Treatment for an over-use injury is ice as needed and further evaluation from a physician – there may be a torn rotator or possibly a fracture in the shoulder area.  STOP the exercise or activity that has caused the shoulder pain until cleared by a doctor!  Continued strain will only cause greater injury, possible surgery and loss of the athlete for several months in recovery and rehabilitation.

4. UPPER BACK – The anatomy of your upper back starts at the shoulders and goes all the way to the waist line.  These types of injuries are difficult to diagnosis and must be treated as serious.   Even minor pain in the upper back can be a sign of not just muscle strain but possibly a damaged disc in the spinal column.  Severe pain and inability to move any part of your arms, legs, or back may cause paralysis or even death if not treated properly – ALWAYS call 911 if any of these symptoms are present.  The pain ranges from dull aches over a wide area to sharp pain located in one area.  Remember that pain that does not go away or relieve itself in an acceptable period of time is an INJURY.  Recovery for upper back injuries is normally 2 to 3 weeks for minor injuries.  Lie flat on your back and apply ice every 2 – 3 hours for the first 24 hours.  Seek further medical attention if pain persists.  Discontinue the activity that created the upper back pain.

5. LOWER BACK – The lower back is continually working hard to support your entire body throughout the entire day.  Constant stopping, starting, turning, bending and twisting place tremendous stress on this region of your body..  Lower back pain is the number one complaint of all athletes.  Lower back pain symptoms are similar to upper back pain and injuries, ranging from dull ache in a wide area to sudden severe pain in a specific location.  Lower back pain can also cause numbness in the legs.  Movement will create increased pain and immobility.  A minor back injury can be quickly relieved by stopping the activity, lying flat and applying ice to the affected area.  Apply ice every 2 to 3 hours.  Continued use of the lower back without proper treatment will lead to chronic back pain and the athlete will be unable to practice or play for several days or weeks.

6. CHEST / RIB CAGE – The rib structure that covers the majority of the chest is a “cage” that protects the heart and lungs. There are 12 ribs that join the vertebrae in the back.  When you inhale you can feel the chest expand which creates movement of flexion of the ribs.  A rib can break or you can have a stress fracture which is a crack in the rib.  A cracked rib is very painful but will normally heal in approximately 3 weeks.  Little treatment is available for cracked ribs other than lying flat and restricting body movement.  The upper four ribs are rarely fractured because they are very well protected, however the lower ribs are less protected and are injured more frequently.

Most sports related rib injuries occur due to “body blows” during contact related sports.  Signs and symptoms of rib fractures are pain, bruising and deformity in the rib cage area.  Associated symptoms are difficulty in breathing or pain on inhalation when the rib cage expands..  It is always advisable to seek further medical attention in the event of any rib injury.  Call 911 immediately if there is any indication of difficulty in breathing – It is very difficult to determine if additional internal injuries have occurred such as a punctured lung.  DO NOT allow the athlete to return to the practice or game if any of these symptoms have presented themselves.

7. ARM and ELBOW – Upper arm, lower arm, and wrist injuries are also very common sports related injuries.  The arms are used in almost every sport but also naturally help to protect the body from unnecessary hits and cushion the impact during contact and falls.  Most arm pain in general occurs to the bicep and the triceps muscles and this is caused by long repetitive actions, or overuse of the muscles.  The arms however are probably the easiest muscles to strengthen with light to moderate weight and stretching exercises.  Elbow injuries are usually caused by overuse and hyperextension.  Elbow pain is a sure sign and symptom that the athlete requires a break in the game or practice.  Continued use will only create extended recovery time and cause unnecessary pain.  Any suspected fracture that presents with deformity or bruising should be treated by a physician due to possible fracture.

8. WRIST  – The wrist is your connective joint that works with both the lower arm and the hands and fingers.  A wrist sprain can be a torn or partially torn ligament or several ligaments in the wrist area.  The normal causes of wrist injuries are impact related from falls or overuse of the joint.   Signs and symptoms for sprains, strains,, and fractures are normally pain, swelling, bruising, and deformity.  The wrist will also lose strength, function and movement.  Treatment for wrist related injuries is to apply ice to the entire wrist area to reduce swelling.  Apply ice every 2 to 3 hours and immobilize the wrist.   Seek further attention from a physician for suspected fractures.

9. HAND and FINGERS – Injuries to the hands and fingers may not seem as serious as other body parts, however they are crucial to the function of the athlete.  The most common injury is sprains or fractures to the fingers which result in pain, swelling and deformity to the affected finger.  Most hand and finger injuries are caused by impact with an object, bending, or twisting actions.  Treatment is to apply ice to the affected area and seek further attention from a physician for suspected fractures.  Restrict all movement of the affected area.  Depending on the severity of the sprain or fracture, it may take anywhere from 2 to 6 weeks to recover from the injury.

10. UPPER LEG – The upper leg is made up of four quadriceps muscle in the front that join to the knee cap on the back of the upper leg. There are three muscles that form the hamstrings.  The hamstrings cover the entire back of the thigh area.  All of these muscle groups are required for and sport that requires flexibility and power.  The main cause of upper and lower leg injuries is impact from an object or uncushioned falls.  Any injury from the hip and below will require special treatment skills or assistance if the patient needs to be moved.  NEVER move a patient without first securing the injured limb and precautionary measures in place.  Call 911 immediately if internal injuries are suspected.  A fractured femur in the upper leg is extremely painful and requires extensive special treatment.  Signs and symptoms of upper leg injuries are pain, swelling, bruising, and deformity.

11. KNEE  – The knee injury or knee pain is one of the most common athlete complaints for ALL sports.  The knee is used in all sports and requires special care to maintain injury or pain free.  The main cause of knee injuries is impact with an object, twisting, or flexion of the knee joint.  Signs and symptoms of knee injury are pain, swelling, bruising and deformity.  It is possible to dislocate the joint, but the most common is the knee sprain.  The treatment for most knee injuries is to apply ice every 2 to 3 hours, limit movement of the joint, seek further medical attention from a physician.

12. ANKLE – An ankle sprain is the most common sports injury to the foot.  A sprain is a tearing or stretching of the ligaments which are located around the ankle and hold the ankles together.  The main cause of an ankle sprain is usually when the athlete “rolls” his or her foot which is an inversion sprain, or the ankle may twist out which is an eversion sprain.  Symptoms of ankle sprains are often a popping sound or a click from the ankle followed by chronic pain and swelling associated with bruising and discoloration.

Proper diagnosis and treatment will lead to an accelerated recovery time.  Use the acronym “R.I.C.E” to treat the sprained R- Rest I – Ice C – Compression – wrap the ankle with a flexible bandage to prevent movement and reduce swelling.  No weight should be placed on the ankle for at least 24 hours.  Apply ice for 15 minutes 3 or 4 times a day. Avoid ice burn on the skin by placing a towel between the ice and skin.  Rest with the affected ankle elevated above heart level.  Try to avoid heat of any kind on the ankle area.  Excessive heat can be harmful and extend healing time.  It usually takes about 4 to 6 weeks for the ankle to heal.  The healing time depends on how badly the ligament was stretched or torn.
ANKLE INJURY PREVENTION – It is very important to prevent the ankle from further injury.  The risk of further injury is increased by as much as 50% however proper exercise for strengthening can reduce this.  Warm up slowly before any exercise!  Gradually increase the warm up period until your body and muscle temperature have increased.  This allows oxygen and blood flow to lubricate the muscles, joints and connective tissues.  This helps prevent sudden stretching injuries.  If pain persists for more than 2 days or increases without provocation, the ankle may be fractured.  Seek further medical attention from a doctor if this occurs.  Scar tissue may develop and affect mobility which stiffens the joints after 4 to 6 weeks of recovery.  Physical therapy is often recommended to heal the sprained , strained, or fractured ankle.
13. SHIN SPLINT – A shin splint is an condition created by repetitive pounding of the feet and is found mostly in runners and sports that require excessive conditioning involving running or walking long distances.  There is no specific sport or activity that creates this condition.  Signs and symptoms of shin splints are general pain in the leg or localized pain along the shin.  Swelling is possible in the lower leg.  Treatment for minor shin splints is stretching and strengthening of the calf muscle.  Apply ice if pain persists and discontinue any activity that requires running or placing weight on the shin area.  If pain persists seek further medical attention and check for possible stress fractures of the shin bone.

14. FOOT / HEEL Foot injuries and foot pain are associated with any sport that requires running or jumping.  The most common injury to the foot is the heel bruise and is caused by landing incorrectly or forcefully on the heel itself.  Signs and symptoms of the heel bruise or foot injury is pain when applying pressure, bruising and swelling.  Treatment is to apply ice and rest the heel from all sports activities.  If pain persists for more than 2 weeks, consult a physician to check for possible bone fractures in the foot.