Introduction 

Playing sport and doing regular exercise is good for your health, but can sometimes result in 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 some of the most commonly affected areas.

Read about typical sports injuries.

What to do if you have an injury

If you've injured yourself, you will probably notice pain, tenderness, swelling, bruising, and restricted movement or stiffness in the affected area immediately. Sometimes, you may only notice these symptoms 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 you're injured may cause further damage and slow your recovery time.

If the injury is minor, you don't usually need to see a doctor and can look after yourself at home (see below), but you may want to visit your GP or local NHS walk-in centre if you need advice or your symptoms don't get better over time.

If the injury is severe, such as a broken bone, dislocation or severe head injury, go to your nearest accident and emergency (A&E) department as soon as possible.

Treating a sports injury

You can usually treat minor injuries yourself by:

  • resting the affected body part for the first 48-72 hours to prevent further damage
  • regularly applying an ice pack to the affected area during the first 48-72 hours to reduce swelling
  • using over-the-counter painkillers, such as paracetamol or ibuprofen, to relieve pain

If your symptoms are severe or don't start to get better within a few days or weeks, your GP may be able to refer you for specialist treatment and support, such as physiotherapy.

Particularly serious injuries will occasionally require a procedure or operation to align any misplaced bones, fix any broken bones, or repair any torn ligaments.

Depending on the type of injury you have, it can take a few weeks or months to make a full recovery. While you recover, it's important not to do too much too fast – aim to increase your level of activity gradually over time.

Read more about treating sports injuries.

Preventing sports injuries

You can reduce your risk of getting injured by:

If you start a new sport or activity, get advice and training from a qualified healthcare professional or sports coach.

Learn more by reading the following pages – exercise: getting started and fitness and training tips.  


Page last reviewed: 25/02/2015

Next review due: 25/02/2017