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Sports Injuries: Types and Treatments

More than 3.5 million sports injuries occur each year in the United States, and almost one-third of all childhood injuries happen while a child is playing a sport.

Sports-related injuries are varied, numerous, and require medical evaluation. They include meniscal tears, tendon tears and ruptures, ligament sprains and tears, fractures, pinched nerves (also called stingers), disc injuries, assorted joint complaints, muscle strains (also known as pulled muscles), and overuse injuries like Golfer’s elbow.

At OrthoEdge, we understand the mentality of athletes who want to perform their best. Our sports medicine experts have decades of experience in diagnosing and treating professional, collegiate, high school, club and recreational athletes of all ages.

Call us today to see how we can help you get back in the game.

Common Sports Injuries in Athletes


Although our bones are incredibly strong, they can be broken when subjected to blunt force. The most commonly fractured bones in contact sports are the wrist, hand, ankle, foot, and collarbone, although broken legs, arms, and elbows are also a sports-related hazard. Symptoms include noticeable and unusual bumps, bends or twists in the bone, severe pain and swelling, and difficulty bearing weight on the affected limb. Treatment depends on the type and severity of the fracture, and may include casting, fracture reduction, and/or surgical stabilization.

Stress fractures are weak spots or fine cracks in bone that develop over time and are the result of continuous overuse. Although stress fractures may not cause obvious swelling, they can be painful. Most are treated with rest, ice, compression and elevation (RICE).

Ligament Injuries

Ligaments are sinewy bands of fibrous collagen tissue that connect bones to each other. They help stabilize joints and prevent bones from grinding against one another. The human body has approximately 900 ligaments. Most ligament injuries come from playing sports, with ligament tears in the knee being especially common.

The knee has four main ligaments: anterior cruciate (ACL), posterior cruciate (PCL), medial collateral (MCL), and lateral collateral (LCL). They help provide stability and strength to the knee joint.

The two collateral (side) ligaments are located on the outside of your knee joint and control its sideways motion, bracing it against unusual movement. The two cruciate ligaments overlap diagonally within the knee joint (like the letter X) and control its back and forth motion. The ACL helps keep the tibia from slipping forward, while the PCL keeps it from slipping backward. Injuries affecting the ligaments of the knee include:

  • ACL injury. ACL injuries are among the most common sports injuries, and typically occur when an athlete makes sudden stops or changes in direction, or lands with a twisting motion. When the ACL is partially or completely torn, patients will experience pain and swelling, and the knee will feel unstable. Depending on the patient’s age and activity level, an ACL tear may require surgery to reconstruct the ligament.
  • Knee sprain. A knee sprain refers to torn or overstretched ligaments. A knee sprain may involve one or more of the knee’s four ligaments. It typically occurs as a sports injury, or as the result of significant trauma to the knee joint. Symptoms include stiffness, pain, swelling or bruising, and instability. Non-surgical treatments include RICE, an acronym for rest, ice, compression, and elevation, as well as physical therapy. Surgery is reserved for Grade III sprains (full ligament tear), and is done arthroscopically.
  • Dislocation. A knee dislocation occurs when the bones that form the knee—the femur (thigh bone), tibia (shin bone) and patella (kneecap)—become disconnected from one another. It is usually the result of significant trauma, either from a fall or a violent collision between players on the field, and can cause damage to adjacent ligaments, blood vessels and nerves. Symptoms include severe swelling, pain and instability. Surgery may be required to correct the dislocation and other damage from the injury.

Meniscal Tears

The meniscus is a c-shaped piece of rubbery cartilage located on the joint surface of the tibia that acts as a shock absorber between your shin and thigh bones. Your menisci (each knee has two) help cushion and stabilize the knee joint. Some have likened them to the shocks in our cars.

Athletes who play contact sports are especially susceptible to meniscal tears. Tears can occur acutely, such as stepping in a hole or being tackled on the football field, or chronically over time from normal use. Symptoms of a torn meniscus include pain along the sides of the knee, swelling, clicking or catching when bending or straightening the knee, and a sense of instability, or giving way, with twisting activity.

Treatment options range from therapy and rest, to injections, to minimally invasive surgical repair using a video arthroscope (known as arthroscopy).

Overuse Injuries

An overuse injury is any type of bone, muscle, ligament, or tendon injury that is caused by repetitive trauma or stress. Athletes whose sport involves repetitive motions, such as cyclists, runners, skiers, swimmers, golfers, and dancers, are prone to overuse injuries. They include the following:

  • Bursitis. Your joints are surrounded by fluid-filled sacs (bursae) that reduce friction and cushion the pressure points between your bones and tendons. Bursae are found throughout the body, including in our knees, hips, elbows, shoulders and ankles. When these sacs become inflamed, either through repeated pressure and overuse, or injury, it can cause pain and swelling, and limit your mobility. If rest and elevation fail to alleviate the pain associated with bursitis, physical therapy, corticosteroid injections, or a combination of both will be prescribed. Occasionally, surgery may be required.
  • Patellar tendinitis. The patellar tendon runs from the kneecap (patella) to the shinbone. Inflammation of this tendon, called patellar tendinitis, weakens the tendon and may cause small tears. This injury is common in runners, skiers and cyclists, and is sometimes called “jumpers knee.” Symptoms include pain, usually between your kneecap and tibia, that worsens over time. Most treatments focus on managing your symptoms.
  • Shin splints, Runner’s Knee, IT Band Syndrome, Achilles Tendinitis, Plantar Fasciitis. These overuse injuries commonly affecting runners can be avoided by adding some simple strength-training exercises to your fitness regimen. Read more here.

Overhead Sports and Shoulder Injuries

The shoulder is a complex system made up of many different moving parts. It is comprised of five joints and three bones — the clavicle (collar bone), scapula (shoulder blade), and humerus (the long bone in your upper arm) — that act in concert to allow your shoulder to move in different directions.  The joint’s bony architecture, muscles, labrum, and capsule all work in synergy to provide stability, strength, and the ability to throw a ball.

The shoulder is the most mobile joint in the body. But that remarkable range of motion also makes it more vulnerable to injury.  If one of the shoulder joint structures weakens, stress loads are increased in the others, which can eventually cause damage.

Shoulders are particularly susceptible to sports-related injuries. Baseball, tennis, volleyball and football all involve repetitive overhead activity that exerts significant force across the shoulder joint. Some of the most common injuries seen in overhead sports involve the rotator cuff, biceps tendon, labrum, and scapula.

  • Rotator cuff tendonitis and tears: Your rotator cuff is made up of muscles and tendons that keep the ball (head) of your upper arm bone (humerus) in your shoulder socket. It also helps you raise and rotate your arm. In athletes, injuries to the rotator cup can occur because of improper mechanics and overuse. Symptoms include lateral or posterior pain just outside the shoulder joint, weakness in your shoulder, and trouble when raising your arm.  Tendonitis is inflammation or irritation of the shoulder tendons. A partial rotator cuff tear is treated with therapy, medication, and possibly corticosteroid injections; a full rotator cuff tear may require surgery.  (Ask your OrthoEdge surgeon about Regeneten, a leading-edge technology that can help speed rotator cuff recovery.)
  • Bicep tendinitis and tears to the biceps tendon or its attachment to the glenoid (SLAP tears), may manifest as sharp, deep anterior to posterior pain and popping, and reduced range of motion.  Cold packs can help reduce swelling while non steroidal anti-inflammatory medications such as aspirin or ibuprofen can help alleviate pain. Physical therapy m