Figuring out what type of sports injuries one is at risk for may come down to age.
“You’re more likely to have traumatic injuries in younger groups and overuse-type injuries in older groups,” notes Lynn Millar, a physical therapist and chair of the department of physical therapy at Winston-Salem State University.
Ankle sprain is a type of traumatic injury, she says, while tendonitis (inflammation of a tendon seen in conditions such as golfer’s elbow or tennis elbow) is an example of overuse injury.
One’s chosen sport also impacts injury risk, Millar says. For example, a volleyball player is more likely to develop a rotator cuff injury than a soccer player, who in turn is more at risk for a knee injury than the volleyball player.
And then there’s how much time you put in.
“There’s a big difference between the person who maybe is playing tennis twice a week versus the person who is competing at the university level in tennis and practicing every day, so that as the hours go up, their risk of injury goes up.”
Quantifying how many people will sustain a sports injury is tough, Millar says. It may be one person in 100,000 for certain types of injuries and less or more for others.
Injuries can vary from simple things like shin splints — several different problems that can cause pain around the interior side of the calf — to more serious knee ligament injuries such as anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tears. The ACL is one of two ligaments in the knee that connects the femur and tibia bones. A person may damage the ACL if it twists or pivots while the foot is planted.
Knee and shoulder injuries are the most common, Jon Schriner, DO, said in an e-mail.
“Knee injuries last forever and come back years later to haunt athletes,” wrote Schriner, the medical director at the Michigan Center for Athletic Medicine in Flushing, Michigan.
The impact of sports injury varies depending on the type of injury.
“You can go all the way from something that won’t hurt…to one that’s going to need surgery or that’s going to stop a competitive career,” Millar says.
Learn more about the different types of sports injuries and how to prevent them in the following quiz.
1. What are the most common sports injuries?
C. Knee injury/ACL tear
D. Both A & B
2. Groin strains are more common in hockey and soccer players than in those who participate in other sports.
True or False
3. A previous hamstring injury is a risk factor for a future hamstring injury.
True or False
4. Men sustain more ACL injuries than women.
True or False
5. A balanced training program is essential to avoid sports injuries.
True or False
1. D. Strains and sprains are the most common sports injuries, Millar says. A sprain is damage to a ligament — connective tissue in a joint that attaches to the bone. A strain, on the other hand, is damage to a muscle, such as a hamstring strain, which is common in track and field or soccer.
“It can occur with a sudden acceleration or deceleration,” says Millar.
Other common sports injuries include ligament damage in the knee, the best known injury being an ACL tear, Millar says.
The ACL may get damaged when an athlete plants the foot then suddenly turns or jumps and lands awkwardly, twisting the knee.
Arm injuries, including those to the rotator cuff (muscles along the shoulder that help stabilize it), are more common in swimmers and volleyball players than some other sports.
2. True. The groin is the term for the muscles on the inside of the thigh that cross the hip joint. A “soccer lunge” could lead to groin strain, Millar says, because a player may be extending one leg very quickly to try to catch or kick a ball.
Hockey players are also prone to these injuries. “If you think about the hockey stride… they’re pushing off and going from side to side, so if they push off or slide incorrectly, then it could strain that muscle, those muscle groups,” Millar says.
3. True. If you have had a previous hamstring injury, you are more likely to sustain another one, Millar says. “With a strain, if you get damage into that muscle, then you start getting some scar tissue in there. So even when people have gone through rehabilitation and so forth, sometimes [they] never get the strength of that muscle back up even to the other side, and that means it’s going to be working harder to try to keep up.”
4. False. ACL injuries are much more common in women than in men, Millar says.
One theory is that because women generally have wider hips than men, their legs come down at a slightly different angle toward the knees than men’s do, Millar says.
5. True. Participating in any type of activity can lead you to overdevelop certain muscles and underdevelop others, which is why a balanced training program is so vital, Millar says.
“I can’t tell you how many runners I see that basically all they do is they go out and run,” Millar says. “They never do anything else, and then they come in complaining of knee pain. In reality, their hips are actually very weak if they do anything other than running.”
One can avoid sports injuries with proper technique and strength, good coaching and officiating, better equipment, and quality trainers to provide care when an injury does occur, Schriner wrote.
To determine whether you should see a doctor, consider the type of injury. Is it mild enough to treat at home, or is there extreme pain and swelling? The latter would suggest medical attention is warranted.
While people cannot prevent all injuries, participating in sports and exercising are important because of the many health benefits, says Millar. “Yes, you’ve got the risk of these injuries, but a good program should [be] well balanced so that you have resistance training to build strength, you have flexibility around the area, and then you have the sports-specific training.”
Want to learn more about tendonitis? Read “Types of Tendonitis.”