Common medical injuries in athletes and nonathletes
Written by Leann Poston M.D.
Common injuries treated by medical professionals vary by age group, sex, and preferred sports. Warming up, maintaining flexibility, varying your work-out, and gradually increasing your activity level can help prevent sports injuries such as sprains and strains and keep you out of your medical provider’s office. While you will probably feel comfortable treating some injuries at home, others may require emergency care. Fast recovery from overuse injuries, such as tennis elbow, and the inability to heal an injury completely before returning to your favorite sports are key concerns of athletes and weekend warriors alike.
The most common injuries leading to a call for medical advice are strains and sprains. Sprains are injuries to ligaments, which are tough bands of connective tissue that connect bones. Strains or pulled muscles are injuries to muscles or tendons.
Common lower extremity injuries
The lower extremity, because it bears weight and must provide strength, stability, and agility, is a common site for medical injuries. It is unrealistic to expect a fast recovery from a leg injury when you are active in sports because resting it is almost impossible!
Upper leg and hip
- Hip flexor strains: The hip flexors lift the leg up towards the trunk and help with moving the leg forward. Sprinting, sudden turns, and running up hills can all cause hip flexor strains.
- Groin pulls: The groin muscles extend from the upper inner thigh to the inner thigh. They are commonly injured with quick side-to-side motions and in sports that require explosive movements.
- Sciatica: The sciatic nerve travels down the back of the leg to the bottom of the foot. A bulged disk or a pinched nerve can cause radiating pain with numbness, burning, or tingling from the lower back to the toes.
- Hamstring strain: The hamstrings run down the back of the thigh. Because they are tight the hamstrings are easily strained or pulled. An imbalance in strength between the hamstrings and the quadriceps is one risk factor for injury.
Lower leg, knee, and ankle
- Patellofemoral syndrome: Patellofemoral pain or pain under the kneecap is another injury commonly found in runners. It can cause pain and swelling around the kneecap resulting from the patella rubbing on the tibia.
- Shin splints: Shin splints are an overuse injury that results in pain in the lower leg. Shin splints may be from microfractures in the tibia bones or inflammation of the outer covering of the bone. They are common in runners.
- ACL tears or strains: The ACL ligament is one of the four ligaments in the knee. It stabilizes the front of the knee, especially during rotational movements. The ACL ligament is most commonly injured when slowing down or planting the foot while making a sudden turn or pivot. Always see a doctor if you suspect that you have suffered a torn ACL.
- Achilles tendon injuries: The Achilles tendon, attaches the calf muscles to the ankle. Achilles tendon injuries are common in sports that require a lot of running.
Common upper extremity injuries
The shoulder sacrifices stability for a greater range of motion and is, therefore, a common site for injuries that require medical assistance.
- Tennis or golf elbow: Tennis or golf elbow is an overuse injury from gripping a racket or club for too long. The tendons at the elbow become inflamed. The pain is located on the outside of the elbow. Fast recovery time is unlikely in overuse injuries such as tennis elbow.
- Shoulder injuries: Dislocations, sprains, strains, and other injuries are common in the shoulder. The shoulder joint trades stability for flexibility, which puts it at increased risk for sports injuries. After a sports injury, immobilizing the joint and other practices that lead to a faster recovery are challenging to comply with.
Other types of injuries commonly treated by medical professionals
- Concussion: Concussions are injuries to the brain that result when something strikes the skull, and the brain is jarred inside the skull. Unlike most sprains and strains, a concussive injury requires immediate medical attention.
Treatment for common injuries
Sprains, strains, and overuse injuries are common medical injuries that can usually be treated at home. If you suspect that the injury may be more serious than a strain or sprain, it is not improving within a couple of days, you are not healing from the injury as quickly as you would expect, the level of pain is higher than expected, or you have a head injury – consult your health care provider immediately. Otherwise, start with “PRICE.”
- Protection: Protect the injured limb with a bandage, brace, or splint.
- Rest: Resting a sprained or strained extremity can lead to decreased inflammation and pain.
- Ice: Apply ice for 15-20 minutes at a time, two to three times per day, for the first 2-3 days. Wrap the ice in a cloth and remove the ice if the skin becomes numb. Icing after play may lead to faster recovery from overuse injuries such as tennis elbow.
- Compression: Use an elastic wrap to apply compression to an injured limb for the first 24-36 hours. Wrap the injured joint snugly, but not tightly, to limit the amount of swelling.
- Elevation: Elevate the injury above the level of your heart several times a day for the first 2-3 days. Elevation decreases bruising and swelling. Seek medical attention if the swelling increases as it may be a fracture and not a strain or sprain.
Other treatment options
- Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs): Over-the-counter NSAIDs can decrease pain and inflammation.
- Supplements: Animal studies have demonstrated that supplements such as BPC-157 can speed up healing and decrease the recovery time from injuries. BPC-157 is a prescription medication. Consulting an Invigor Medicine provider by telemedicine can help you determine if BPC-157 is the right choice for you.
- Physical therapy: Physical therapy can lead to a faster recovery from sports injuries like tennis elbow by teaching strengthening exercises, prescribing acupuncture or electrotherapy, and providing guidance on how to prevent further injury to the elbow joint.
Seek medical attention
You should consult a medical provider whenever you suspect your injury may be more serious than a strain or sprain, or you have concerns about how it is healing. If you see any of these signs, make that call sooner (maybe even now) rather than later.
- Deformity of any bone or pinpoint tenderness on any bone
- An inability to bear weight when standing
- Excessive swelling
- Increasing pain
- If the symptoms have not gradually improved over 2-3 days
- Any head, neck or spinal injuries should be considered medical emergencies
While we strive to always provide accurate, current, and safe advice in all of our articles and guides, it’s important to stress that they are no substitute for medical advice from a doctor or healthcare provider. You should always consult a practicing professional who can diagnose your specific case and provide advice for the best course of treatment for healing an injury. The content we’ve included in this guide is merely meant to be informational and does not constitute medical advice.