Treating sports injuries 

Treatment for a sports injury will depend on factors such as how severe the injury is and the part of your body affected.

Some general treatments that may be helpful for your injury are described below. You can also find out about treating specific injuries by clicking on the links at the end of the page.

PRICE therapy

Minor injuries, such as mild sprains and strains, can often be initially treated at home using PRICE therapy for two or three days.

PRICE stands for protection, rest, ice, compression and elevation.

  • Protection – protect the affected area from further injury; for example, by using a support.
  • Rest – avoid exercise and reduce your daily physical activity. Using crutches or a walking stick may help if you cannot put weight on your ankle or knee, and a sling may help if you‘ve injured your shoulder.
  • Ice – apply an ice pack to the affected area for 15-20 minutes every two to three hours. A bag of frozen peas, or similar, will work well. Wrap the ice pack in a towel to avoid it directly touching your skin and causing an ice burn.
  • Compression – use elastic compression bandages during the day to limit swelling.
  • Elevation – keep the injured body part raised above the level of the heart whenever possible. This may also help to reduce swelling.

Pain relief

Painkillers, such as paracetamol, can be used to help ease the pain. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) tablets or creams, such as ibuprofen, can also be used to help ease any pain and help to reduce any swelling.

Aspirin should not be given to children under 16 years of age.


Immobilisation can sometimes help to prevent further damage by reducing movement. It can also reduce pain, muscle swelling and muscle spasm.

For example, slings, splints and casts may be used to immobilise injured arms, shoulders, wrists and legs while you heal.

If you only have a sprain, prolonged immobilisation is not usually necessary, and you should try gently moving the affected joint as soon as you are able to do so without experiencing significant pain.


Some people recovering from a long-term injury may benefit from physiotherapy

This is a specialist treatment that can involve techniques such as massage, manipulation and exercises to improve the range of motion, strengthen the surrounding muscles, and return the normal function of 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.

Corticosteroid injections

If you have severe or persistent inflammation, a corticosteroid injection may be recommended.

These can help to 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, the injections can be repeated every few months, but care must be taken to avoid side effects, such as thinning of the skin.

Surgery and procedures

Most sports injuries don't require surgery, but very severe injuries such as badly broken bones may require corrective surgery to fix the bones with wires, plates, screws or rods.

In some cases, however, it may be possible 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.

Read more about knee ligament surgery.


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 have 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, as this can prolong your recovery time. Start by doing frequent repetitions of a few simple exercises, before gradually increasing the amount you do.

In some cases, you may benefit from the help of a professional, such as a physiotherapist or sports injury specialist, who can design a suitable recovery programme and advise you about which exercises you should do and the number of repetitions. 

Treating specific injuries

Click on the links below for more information on treatment for specific injuries:

Page last reviewed: 25/02/2015

Next review due: 25/02/2017