Chronic pain is the most common cause of long-term disability. It lasts longer than "normal healing" (several months), and can cause severe problems.
Georgia Spine & Trauma Care
The benefits of sports and exercise far outweigh the risks, but occasionally injuries do happen.
What causes sports injuries
Sports injuries can be caused by:
- an accident – such as a fall or heavy blow
- not warming up properly before exercising
- using inappropriate equipment or poor technique
- pushing yourself too hard
Almost any part of the body can be injured, including the muscles, bones, joints and connective tissues (tendons and ligaments). The ankles and knees are particularly prone to injury.
Some people recovering from a long-term injury may benefit from physiotherapy.
It's a specialist treatment where techniques such as massage, manipulation and exercises are used to improve range of motion, strengthen the surrounding muscles, and return the normal function of the injured area.
A physiotherapist can also develop an exercise programme to help strengthen the affected body part and reduce the risk of the injury recurring.
A corticosteroid injection may be recommended if you have severe or persistent inflammation.
It can help relieve pain caused by your injury, although for some people the pain relief is minimal or only lasts for a short period of time.
If necessary, a corticosteroid injection can be repeated, but you'll usually only be able to have two or three injections a year.
Side effects can include thinning of the skin, loss of fat, and infection. The doctor treating you will be able to explain the possible side effects in more detail.
Surgery and procedures
Most sports injuries don't require surgery, but very severe injuries such as badly broken bones may require corrective treatment. This may include a manipulation or surgery to fix the bones with wires, plates, screws or rods.
In some cases, it may be possible to realign displaced bones without needing an operation.
Certain other injuries may also occasionally require surgery. For example, an operation may be needed to repair a torn knee ligament.
Recovery from an injury
Depending on the type of injury you have, it can take a few weeks to a few months or more to make a full recovery.
You shouldn't return to your previous level of activity until you've fully recovered, but you should aim to gently start moving the injured body part as soon as possible.
Gentle exercises should help to improve the area’s range of movement. As movement becomes easier and the pain decreases, stretching and strengthening exercises can be introduced.
Make sure you don't try to do too much too quickly because this can delay recovery. Start by doing frequent repetitions of a few simple exercises before gradually increasing the amount you do.
In some cases, the help of a professional, such as a physiotherapist or sports injury specialist, may be beneficial. They can design a suitable recovery programme and advise you about the exercises you should do and the number of repetitions.
What to do if you have an injury
If you've injured yourself, you may have immediate pain, tenderness, swelling, bruising, and restricted movement or stiffness in the affected area. Sometimes, these symptoms may only be noticeable several hours after exercising or playing sports.
Stop exercising if you feel pain, regardless of whether your injury happened suddenly or you’ve had the pain for a while. Continuing to exercise while injured may cause further damage and slow your recovery.
If you have a minor injury, you do not usually need to see a doctor and can look after yourself at home. However, you may want to visit a GP, local minor injuries unit or NHS walk-in centre for advice if your symptoms do not get better over time.
If you have a severe injury, such as a broken bone, dislocation or severe head injury, go to your nearest emergency (ER) department as soon as possible.
Treating a sports injury
You can usually treat common minor injuries yourself by:
- resting the affected part of the body for the first 48 to 72 hours to prevent further damage
- regularly applying an ice pack to the affected area during the first 48 to 72 hours to reduce swelling
- using painkillers, such as paracetamol or ibuprofen, to relieve pain
If your symptoms are severe or do not improve within a few days or weeks, a GP may be able to refer you for specialist treatment and support, such as physiotherapy.
Waiting lists for NHS treatment can be long and some people choose to pay for private treatment. Most private physiotherapists accept direct self-referrals.
Serious injuries will occasionally require a procedure or operation to align misplaced bones, fix broken bones, or repair torn ligaments.
Depending on the type of injury, it can take a few weeks or months to make a full recovery. While recovering, it's important not to do too much too soon – aim to increase your level of activity gradually over time.
Preventing sports injuries
You can reduce your risk of getting injured by:
- warming up properly before exercise
- not pushing your body beyond your current fitness level
- using the right equipment – for example, wearing running shoes for running, shin guards for football, and a gum shield for rugby
- receiving coaching to learn correct techniques
When starting a new sport or activity, get advice and training from a qualified fitness trainer or sports coach.