From the perspective of both a participant and a spectator, sports can be a glorious, epic, and uplifting affair. But on the other side of the coin, they can also be devastating, gut-wrenching, and downright deflating. There are a number of different types of events that would likely fall into that second category, but most are related to perhaps the toughest part of sports: injuries.
For all the fun and joy that come with sports, there is also an inherent risk for injury that simply cannot be completely avoided. All sports carry an injury risk due to their physical toll on the body through physical contact, collisions, and excessive exertion, regardless of its intensity. While many injuries are minor and will only sideline an athlete for short periods of time, others can have serious repercussions that affect careers in the long term.
To help put matters in perspective, here are a few key statistics from the CDC on national injury rates:
- An average of 8.6 million sports- and recreation-related injuries occur each year; this means that about 34 injuries are reported for every 1,000 individuals participating in sports
- Injuries are more common in males (61.3% of all injuries) than females (38.7%)
- Injuries in the 5-24 year-old age group accounted for more than one-half of all episodes (64.9%)
- General exercise is the most common activity associated with injury
Sports-related injuries come in many different forms, but they can generally be divided into two categories: acute and overuse. Acute injuries are those that occur due to a single, instantaneous event that damages one or more body parts. These types of injuries can be the result of a fall or collision—with another player or an inanimate object—and some examples include ankle sprains, ACL tears, and fractures of the wrist. Pain and swelling typically develop immediately after the injury, which makes them generally easy to diagnose.
Overuse injuries result from performing certain activities repeatedly over time, which leads to stress and minor damage to certain areas of the body that accumulates in the long term. Therefore, overuse injuries come on slowly and gradually due to the damage amassing in joints and other structures, eventually leading to a deep, aching pain in the region that’s been over-stressed. Because of their gradual onset and lack of a specific trauma, overuse injuries can often be shrugged off or dismissed as muscle soreness, which can lead to additional problems in the future when they are left untreated.
Strains, sprains, and other common sports injuries
Each sport comes with its own unique risk for injury based on the dynamic movements involved, and as a result, certain injuries are more likely to occur in some sports than others. But there are also a number of injuries that are seen frequently in a wide range of sports that have earned a certain level of distinction and infamy. Below are some of the most common sports-related injuries across all sports:
- Sprains and strains: the most common overall injuries in sports are sprains and strains, which nearly every athlete has dealt with at some point; sprains occur when a ligament—the tough tissue that connects bones together in a joint—is suddenly stretched beyond its limits and damaged in the process; strains are injuries to muscle fibers or tendons—which anchor muscles to bones—and often occur from over-stretching or overusing a muscle
- Ankle sprains are one of the most common injuries in sports; these usually occur when the foot turns inwards too aggressively, which tears the ligaments on the outside of the ankle; they are seen in many sports, including basketball, football, soccer, and volleyball
- Groin strain: the groin is the area where the abdomen meets the leg and the inner thigh muscles attach to the pubic bone; it can be strained from sprinting or any type of activity that requires forceful movement of the leg, such as jumping, kicking, or changing directions while running; groin strains are especially common in soccer, hockey, football, and baseball
- Strained hamstring: the three muscles in the back of the thigh form the hamstring; any of these muscles can be pushed beyond its limits in sports that involve sprinting, running, or extreme stretching, leading to a “pulled hammie”
- Shin splints: pain down the front of the lower leg is referred to as “shin splints,” which occur when muscles, tendons, and bone tissue in this region are pushed too hard; they are commonly seen in runners, particularly those that increase the intensity of their routine too quickly
- ACL tear: the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), which helps to stabilize the upper leg bone to the knee, can be torn when an athlete suddenly cuts or changes direction; tears of the ACL are most commonly seen in football, basketball, and soccer, and often sideline athletes for extended periods of time
- Patellofemoral pain syndrome: sometimes referred to as “runner’s knee,” this is an overuse injury that can result from the repetitive movement of the kneecap (patella) against the thighbone (femur), which can damage the tissue under the patella; in addition to running, this injury is also seen frequently in volleyball and basketball
- Tennis elbow: repetitive use of the elbow—particularly due to a tennis stroke or golf swing—can lead to damage of the tendons that attach to bone on the outside of the elbow, and the result is an overuse injury called lateral epicondylitis, or tennis elbow
- Other: Achilles tendinitis/tears, shoulder impingement/rotator cuff tendinitis and tears/shoulder instability, plantar fasciitis, femoroacetabular impingement/labral tears, wrist tendinitis, meniscus tears, low back pain, neck pain, frozen shoulder, hip bursitis, iliotibial band syndrome, patellar tendinitis