Introduction 

Playing sport and doing regular exercise is good for your health, but can sometimes result in injuries.

Most people will only experience minor sport-related injuries such as cuts and grazesbruises or blisters.

Pain, swelling and restricted limb movements are fairly common. Affected areas can include:

  • muscles
  • bones
  • ligaments (thick bands of tissue that connect one bone to another)
  • tendons (tough, rubbery cords that link muscles to bones)
  • joints – the hips, elbows, ankles and knees
  • cartilage (tough, flexible tissue that covers the surface of joints and allows bones to slide over one another)

Read more about typical sports injuries.

Why sports injuries happen

Sports injuries can be caused by:

  • an accident
  • not warming up properly before exercising
  • using inadequate equipment or poor technique
  • pushing yourself too hard (overtraining)

Your doctor may describe a sports injury as:

  • a sudden injury – which is the result of a sudden impact or an awkward movement
  • an overuse injury – which develops over time as a result of overusing certain parts of the body or poor technique

Overuse injuries are common in professional athletes because of the intense nature of their training.

Children can also develop overuse injuries. To reduce the risk they should be encouraged to play a variety of sports, and have any training monitored by a qualified coach.

What to do if you have an injury

Stop exercising if you feel pain, regardless of whether your sports 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.

Although minor injuries can often be treated at home, visit your GP or local NHS walk-in centre if you need advice. Some injuries may also benefit from physiotherapy.

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.

Treating sports injuries

You can treat most minor sports injuries yourself by resting the affected body part and using over-the-counter painkillers, such as paracetamol or ibuprofen, to relieve pain.

More serious sports injuries, such as a broken bone, torn ligament or damaged cartilage, will require specialist advice and treatment from doctors, surgeons or physiotherapists.

Read more about treating sports injuries.

Preventing sports injuries

Not all sports injuries can be prevented, but you can reduce your risk of getting injured by:

  • warming up properly before you exercise
  • not pushing your body beyond your current fitness level
  • using recommended safety equipment for specific sports, such as shin guards for football or a gum shield for rugby
  • receiving coaching to learn correct techniques

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

Read more information on:

Are sports worth the risk?

After reading this article, you might get the impression that sports are risky activities, but this isn't the case. Any physical activity, even walking to the shops, involves some degree of risk.

It's important to remember the health benefits that sport and exercise can give you, such as:

  • reducing your risk of developing serious diseases later in life, such as heart disease and cancer
  • improving your mood, self-confidence and sense of wellbeing
  • helping you to maintain a healthy weight

Read more information about the benefits of exercise.




Preventing injuries while exercising

A personal trainer explains the five best ways to prevent injuries while exercising.

Media last reviewed: 28/08/2013

Next review due: 28/08/2015

Getting started

If you have not exercised for a while, you could benefit from our Couch to 5k running plan. The plan is a series of podcasts that you download to your MP3 player. It's designed to gradually get you running 5 kilometres (3.1 miles) or for half an hour in just nine weeks.

Why do I feel pain after exercise?

How to avoid sore muscles after exercise (also called delayed onset muscle soreness or DOMS)

Page last reviewed: 02/04/2013

Next review due: 02/04/2015