Sports injuries - Basics

Sports injuries are increasing in frequency as more and more of the population takes part in activities at the professional, amateur and recreational level. It is estimated that about one in 250 people sustain a significant sporting injury annually. This equates roughly 250,000 injuries per year in the UK.

There are undoubted benefits both physically and psychologically for those who participate in sport and it is our role to support and encourage activities of this sort.

While many of these injuries may recover without help, some require specialist expertise to gain maximum recovery in the shortest time. Some injuries are serious enough to have long-term effects on patients day-to-day function while some may be no more than an irritation.

In any event, prevention, proper diagnosis and appropriate treatment can allow patients to continue

Prevention of injury, while perhaps not as glamorous, it is equally important to sportsmen of all classes. Professional sportsmen rely very heavily on structure, coaching and some fairly basic principles to keep themselves in top form. Some quite simple tactics can be employed to help prevent you getting into problems in the first place. The following points should be borne in mind

Amount of training

Consecutive days of training

Previous injury (area)

New to sport 

Training is essential to good performance, but you can overdo things. Perhaps more importantly, training badly can be just as much a handicap to you is doing too little. In particular, you should aim to do your training spread out throughout the week. There is a recognised higher incidence of injuries in those who cram all their training into, say,  two or three days a week.

If you are new to sport, do not expect that you can reach the same level of training and fitness as somebody who is already a regular participant. You should set a modest training targets and increasing gradually as you come up to speed. Similarly a prolonged absence for whatever reason, should be approached in a similar way.

If someone has had a previous injury, it is not uncommon to encounter a re-injury in a patient who was not given themselves enough time to recover. Some injuries do leave a weak spot and if there are recurrent problems, these should be investigated appropriately

Sports injuries can present in different ways, some more obvious than others. Depending on which category you fall in, they will be approached and treated in different ways, broadly speaking however we classify these as acute, chronic or acute on chronic:


Acute injuries imply something that has happened very suddenly at a specific moment in time. The patient often has a clear recollection of exactly when and often how the injury occurred. It is characterised by a sudden change in function. Acute injuries are much more likely to be associated with structural damage.


Chronic injuries have a more insidious onset, symptoms accumulate over a period of time and often it can be difficult to state exactly when the problem started. These are often associated with multiple repetitive events, sometimes over a short period of time, and poor training technique.

Chronic injury may also apply to somebody who’s had an acute injury, where the effects have not been recognised or treated and the patient is left with a long term problem.

Acute on chronic

Acute on chronic refers to a patient who presents with an exacerbation of a more long-standing problem,

Acute injuries should be dealt with as soon as possible. Clearly it is not always possible for a patient to determine whether their injury is serious or not. In fact it is not uncommon to some injuries to remain completely undiagnosed for months in the hope that they will recover spontaneously.

Markers that something more significant has happened are as follows

Crack or pop

If during the course of a sporting activity you sustain an injury and you hear a crack or pop, this is commonly associated with a rupture or tearing of a ligament and some immediate attention should be sought.

Stopping the activity.

Any sportsman who encounters an injury and has to cease immediately their sporting activity fall into  to a higher risk category for having had a more serious injury, for example the footballer who cannot continue the game after a tackle or has to be carried off.

Rapid joint swelling

If an injury leads to swelling of a  joint within an hour or two, then this is presumed to be from blood leaking into the joint and by inference is more likely to be associated with a serious injury. The footballer who lands awkwardly and whose knee swells immediately has a 75% chance of having damaged an important ligament within the knee. The slow appearance of swelling does not rule out more serious injury and should perhaps be investigated at leisure. Most patients who tear cartilages, more complain of some pain at the time of injury but swelling which has taken place overnight or the following day.

Unable To Weight bear

If an injury results in you being unable to weight bear on the limb, particularly if it occurs with any of the above warning signs, you should arrange to have your injury assessed by a clinician as soon as possible

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