Sports Injury? Tips to Get Back in the Game Faster

Injured player

Sports medicine focuses on taking an injury and providing rehabilitation to keep you active and exercising as you heal. Here’s what you need to know if you’re concerned about a new or ongoing injury, along with tips for meeting with a sports medicine physician. 

Common Sports Injuries

"The first 72 hours is critical if you have a muscle tear" - Dr. Blackham

Twisting injuries are common as the underlying mechanical problem, especially from sports like soccer, basketball, football, and skiing. Injuries can result from sprains and tears to joints, particularly the knee or ankle. Muscle strains or tears and overuse injuries such as tendonitis, are also common.

What to do if you have an injury

If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms, stop exercising and make an appointment with your doctor: 

  • Swelling or significant bruising
  • Limping or weakness — for example, unable to lift your arm
  • Sharp pain with activity
  • Pain that lasts longer than 2-3 days that is more than just soreness
  • Pain that makes something else hurt, such as ankle or hip pain after a knee injury

If you’re unable to see a doctor right away, use the acroymn RICE to promote healing:

  • Rest by staying off the injury and avoiding any motion that causes discomfort 
  • Ice for 20 minutes every 2 hours
  • Compression, which means applying pressure, with the use of a compression sleeve or stocking being helpful
  • Elevate by keeping the injury above your heart, such as lying down and then lifting your leg in the air

NOTE: The first 72 hours is critical if you have a muscle tear. Receiving medical care will have a major impact on the speed of recovery. A sports medicine physician can help you reduce swelling, keep scar tissue from forming, and start you on physical therapy. 

Tips for meeting with a sports medicine physician   

  1. Be ready to describe how the injury occurred. This helps your doctor know what muscles and ligaments are affected and the severity of injury. Sometimes patients will bring in video footage or photos to explain the problem, which can be helpful.
  2. You don’t necessarily need an MRI. 80 percent of making the diagnosis is based upon your medical history and exam. Your doctor will decide if you need an MRI or not — but an MRI is not always necessary to make the diagnosis. The MRI helps determine if the injury needs surgery, and it clarifies if there are any other injuries. For example, if based upon your exam and history you’ve torn your ACL, the MRI would help the surgeon to know if anything else is torn and needs to be fixed at the time of surgery.
  3. You may not need surgery, depending on the injury. If it’s just a sprain or a muscle injury, surgery is typically not needed. However, if you’ve torn a meniscus or ACL in the knee, or the rotator cuff in the shoulder, surgery might be necessary. 

NOTE: When in doubt see a physician — it will help you recover faster. For example, if your hamstring was injured six months ago and it’s still painful, it will take longer to heal than if medical care was sought out right after the injury occurred. Your doctor may prescribe physical therapy, fit the appropriate brace, such as an ankle or knee brace, prescribe medications if needed, or use a needle to drain a joint to reduce swelling and pain.


Get back into the game

Your doctor will want to make sure the following conditions are in place before returning to the sport: Full motion of the joints or muscle, normal strength, and no sharp pain during the activity. 

As you recover, Intermountain has options to keep you active and healing. A sports medicine physician can tailor an exercise program to meet your needs and offer suggestions of activities in the interim while protecting the joint or injury area.

Find an Intermountain sports medicine physician

McKay-Dee Hospital Orthopedic and Sports Medicine Clinic 
Intermountain sports medicine facilities in Utah and Idaho