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What is a Sports Injury?

A sports injury is an injury that happens when you or your child are playing sports or exercising. These injuries can often happen when you move your limbs too far, push too hard while playing sports, or are hit by a piece of sports equipment or another person.

The most common types of sports injuries include:

  • Sprains and strains. A sprain is when the tendons that control your muscles are pulled too far or ripped.
  • Knee injuries. Your knee is a joint in your leg that connects the bones in your thigh, your shin, and your kneecap. A common knee injury is a meniscus [meh-NISS-kuss] tear.
  • Swollen muscles. Sometimes, being hit or pushing yourself too hard during exercise can cause your muscles to swell and be inflamed.
  • Achilles tendon injuries. The Achilles (ah-KILL-ees) tendon is the strong tendon that connects your foot to your calf in your lower leg. The Achilles tendon can be injured, torn, or get inflamed, causing pain and other problems.
  • Shin pain. The shin is the front part of your lower leg. Falls and other injuries can cause pain in your shin that lasts after you are done exercising.
  • Rotator cuff injuries. Your rotator cuff is a group of muscles and tendons that help your shoulder move and stay stable. Your rotator injuries are higher in sports that have overhead motion, such as football, baseball, or basketball.
  • Fractures. A bone fracture is a break in the bone. There are several kinds of fractures. Some are caused by a single impact, like being hit or falling, while some happen because of repeated stress on the bone, like running or other forms of exercise.
  • Dislocations. The joints in your body bring two or more bones together and let them move. Sometimes, a joint can be injured, and the bones that connect to it can get out of position. This is called a dislocated joint.


Because there are so many different kinds of sports injuries, you may experience many different symptoms. Some symptoms that happen as a result of the most common sports injuries can include:

  • Swelling and inflammation around the joint, bone, muscle, or tendon that was injured.
  • Pain in a part of your body that is under a lot of stress while playing a sport, like the shoulder when playing baseball or the shins when playing soccer.
  • Not being able to move part of your body, especially after it has been hit or after exerting yourself during exercise.
  • Lower range of motion for your joints. For instance, if you have a meniscus tear, an injury to the knee, you might not be able to move your knee all the way forward, back, or side-to-side like you usually could.
  • Visible injury. Sometimes, you can see that you have been injured. This can happen with bone fractures, especially if the bone is sticking through the skin (compound fracture), or with dislocations, where the bones are in the wrong place.

When to See a Doctor

Many sports injuries will heal on their own or with basic first aid that you can do yourself. However, some of these injuries can be serious or get worse without medical care. You should see your doctor if:

  • You are in severe pain.
  • You have pain, swelling, and inflammation that does not go away after a few days.

Some sports injuries can be emergencies. Seek immediate care if you:

  • Have a head injury that causes confusion, loss of consciousness, or signs of a concussion.
  • Have a visible bone fracture or dislocation.
  • Have uncontrolled bleeding (bleeding that won’t stop) from your injury.
  • Are not able to stand, walk, or move.

If you are helping someone with an injury, you should take care not to move them any more than you have to. Some injuries, such as a broken back, neck, or spine, can be very dangerous and require emergency care.


Sports injuries are caused by playing competitive and solo sports, exercise, and other forms of intense physical activity. There are many causes of sports injuries, but they can include:

  • Falling to the ground.
  • Being hit by another player or piece of sports equipment.
  • Moving your limbs past their limits.
  • Pushing yourself too hard or exercising too much.

Diagnosis and Tests

To diagnose sports injuries, your doctor may perform:

  • A physical exam. Your doctor may ask you to move your body or flex your muscles to see if there are parts that are injured. They may press on certain parts of your body to see if you are tender or in pain.
  • Imaging tests. X-rays, MRIs, and CT scans can take pictures of your bones, organs, and other parts of your body to look for injuries.
  • Neurological (NOO-roh-LAH-jik-uhl) tests. If your doctor thinks you have a concussion, they might do tests to see how your brain is working.


Some sports injuries can heal on their own, and you can help the healing process with RICE:

  • Rest. You should avoid using your injured limb until it can be looked at by a doctor. Don’t walk, run, or play sports because this can make your injury worse.
  • Ice. Put ice on the foot as soon as possible. You should use the ice on your injury for 15 to 20 minutes every 3 to 4 hours, especially for the first 2 days after you are injured. This can decrease swelling and pain.
  • Compression. Compression helps with swelling. If you can, wrap a bandage around your injury. You should keep the bandage snug, but make sure that you don’t wrap it too tight, because this can cut off blood flow your limb.
  • Elevation. Put your injured limb on a couple of pillows to keep it high up. If your foot or leg is hurt, you should try to keep your foot above your heart and chest. This can help decrease swelling.

Depending on the specific kind of sports injury you or your child have, your doctor may have other treatments to help you heal. These can include:

  • Physical therapy. Physical therapy can provide a personalized treatment plan to help you recover from an injury. You may learn exercises and stretches to strengthen the body and prevent injuries.
  • Reduction. If you have a bone fracture, your doctor might try to reduce the fracture, which means lining up both sides of the break and keeping them in that position so the bone can heal straight.
  • Medicine. Anti-inflammatory medicines like ibuprofen can help decrease pain, and swelling around the injured bone, tendon, or muscle.
  • Surgery. Most sports injuries will heal without surgery, but if you have a serious condition, surgery may be needed to help you get better.

Healing time for a sports injury might take several days, weeks, or months depending on how serious your injury is.


You can prevent or reduce the risk of many sports injuries by taking some commonsense steps to play sports more safely:

  • Exercise regularly. Strength training for your leg and arm muscles can help stabilize and protect your knees and elbows, reducing the chance of meniscus tears and other injuries.
  • Warm up and stretch. You should prepare for sports or any other kind of exercise that involves the legs by stretching and warming up before you start.
  • Rest. You should take time to rest between sports and exercise activities.
  • Use the right shoes. Make sure you are using the right shoes for your sports, and replace athletic shoes regularly. Making sure that your shoes are laced up tight can keep your foot, leg, and knee more stable.
  • Use braces. Using braces for your knees or other parts of your body can help give extra support and prevent injury.

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