Which parts of the body do sports injuries affect?
Most sports injuries affect the parts of your body that are involved in physical activity. These include:
- ligaments – thick bands of tissue that connect one bone to another
- joints – the points at which two or more bones make contact (the hips, elbows, ankles and knees are some of the most important joints)
- cartilage – tough, flexible tissue that covers the surface of joints and allows bones to slide over one another
- tendons – tough, rubbery cords that link muscles to bones
Sprains and strains
A sprain is where one or more of your ligaments is stretched, twisted or torn. Sprains often occur in the ligaments around the joints of the ankle or knee. The joint is not dislocated or fractured.
The symptoms of a sprain include:
- swelling and redness
- restricted movement in the affected area
The most common places for a sprain to occur are:
- the knee – which can be sprained if you turn quickly during sports or other physical activities
- the ankle – which can be sprained when walking or running on an uneven surface
- the wrist – which can be sprained if you fall onto your hand
- the thumb – which can be sprained during intense and repetitive activity, such as playing a racquet sport
A muscle strain is where muscle tissues or fibres are stretched or torn. It is sometimes referred to as "pulling a muscle". Strains occur when a muscle is either overstretched or pulled in too much.
Symptoms of a strain include:
- muscle spasm
- a loss of strength in the muscle
Strains commonly occur in many sports, particularly those that involve running, jumping or rapid changes of direction, such as football. The most common types of strains are:
- hamstring strains – the hamstrings muscles run down the back of the leg and are connected to the hip and knee joints
- calf strains – the calf muscles are at the back of the lower leg
- quadriceps strains – the quadriceps are three large muscles at the front of the thigh
- lumbar strains – the lumbar muscles are in the lower back
Find out more about sprains and strains.
Cuts are usually minor injuries which heal quickly on their own and do not need treatment.
Treatment for a cut is usually only required if the cut is deep or has damaged body parts beneath the skin, such as nerves, blood vessels or tendons.
Bruises are bluish or purple-coloured patches that appear on the skin when tiny blood vessels, called capillaries, break or burst underneath it.
Bruises can be very painful at first, but they are not usually a serious threat to your health.
For more information, see What is a bruise?
Blisters are small, fluid-filled swellings that form in the upper layers of skin. Fluid collects under the damaged layer of skin, cushioning the tissue underneath and protecting it from further damage.
Blisters are a common type of minor injury caused by friction on soft skin. They're common in long-distance runners and rowers.
Minor head injuries
A minor head injury often causes a bump or bruise on the head. Other symptoms may include:
- feeling sick
- mild headache
- tender bruising or mild swelling of the scalp
- mild dizziness
Mild knocks to the head don’t usually need to be treated. However, go to your nearest accident and emergency (A&E) department if you have concussion.
Symptoms of concussion include:
- brief loss of consciousness
- memory loss
- vision disturbances, such as "seeing stars"
Most people with concussion make a full recovery.
Heel pain can happen when the thick band of tissue that runs under the sole of the foot becomes damaged.
The medical name for this type of injury is plantar fasciitis. It can cause a sharp and often severe pain when you place weight on your heel. In most cases, only one heel is affected, although it is thought that up to a third of people have pain in both heels.
Heel pain is common in runners and joggers.
Tennis elbow is a painful condition that affects the outside of the elbow. It is caused by strenuous overuse of the muscles and tendons of the forearm and around the elbow joint.
The symptoms of tennis elbow include:
- swelling around the outer edge of the elbow (due to the tendon being inflamed)
- tenderness around the elbow
- pain when moving the elbow
Tennis elbow is caused by repetitive movement of the muscles in the lower arm. Despite its name, tennis elbow also affects people who take part in sports other than tennis, such as cricket and swimming.
Golfer’s elbow has similar symptoms to tennis elbow. However, due to the difference in arm movement in golf, the swelling occurs on the inside of the elbow rather than on the outside.
Tendonitis is inflammation of a tendon. Symptoms of tendonitis include:
- swelling, redness and pain in the injured area
- restricted movement of the affected area
- sometimes a change in appearance of the affected area, such as a lump or a visible change in the position of a limb
Tendonitis is a fairly common injury that can be caused by a strain or tear in tendons around the:
- back of the heel
Older people who start exercising after being inactive for a long time are particularly at risk of tendonitis. This is because their tendons cannot cope with the sudden extra pressure that's placed on them.
Sore shins, sometimes known as shin splints, cause pain along the shin bone. The shin bone runs down the front of the lower leg between your knee and ankle.
Sore shins are caused by swelling and tiny fractures in the surface of the bone. The main symptoms of sore shins are aching, throbbing or tenderness along the inside of the shin, which sometimes travels to the outside of the shin.
Sore shins are common in any sport that involves running and are often caused by doing too much training too soon. They can also be caused by running on hard surfaces or by running in shoes that do not give enough foot and ankle support.
Knee pain (runner’s knee)
Runner’s knee is one of the most common types of knee injury. It develops when the cartilage underneath the kneecap softens or wears away, causing swelling at the back of the kneecap.
If you have runner’s knee, you will have soreness and discomfort beneath or to one side of your kneecap. It can also cause a grating sensation in your knee. Runner’s knee is caused by the repeated impact of running on hard surfaces.
Stress fractures are tiny cracks that develop in a bone as a result of repeated stresses and strains. The two most common symptoms of a stress fracture are pain and swelling in the affected body part. Most stress fractures will heal on their, as long as you rest the affected body part.
Bursitis is inflammation of a bursa, which is a small fluid-filled sac underneath the skin, usually found over the joints and between tendons and bones.
Symptoms of bursitis include:
- pain – often a dull ache in the affected body part that is made worse by movement or pressure
- tenderness in the affected body part
- swelling of the affected body part
- loss of movement in the affected body part
The areas where bursitis most commonly occurs are the:
The symptoms of articular cartilage damage include:
- joint pain
- a decreased range of movement in the affected joint
If the damage is particularly severe, a piece of cartilage can break off and become loose. If this happens, the loose piece of cartilage may affect the movement of your joint. This can cause a feeling of the joint locking or catching. Sometimes, the joint may also give way.
The knee joint is the most common location for cartilage damage to occur. In some cases of knee joint damage, bleeding can occur inside the knee joint.
Most cases of cartilage damage are not particularly serious. However, it can be frustrating to live with because it often takes quite a long time for the cartilage to regain its normal functions.
More serious injuries
Symptoms of a broken bone include:
- pain and swelling
- bruising or discoloured skin around the bone or joint
- the limb or affected part of the body being bent at an unusual angle
- inability to move or put weight on the injured limb or body part
The pain that is associated with a broken bone can often be severe and can make you feel faint, dizzy and sick.
Severe head injuries
A severe head injury can cause a wide range of symptoms such as:
- unconsciousness, either very briefly or for a longer period of time
- difficulty staying awake or still being sleepy several hours after the injury
- a seizure or fit, when your body suddenly moves uncontrollably
- difficulty speaking, such as slurred speech
- vision problems or double vision
- difficulty understanding what people say
If you think someone has a severe head injury, take them immediately to the accident and emergency (A&E) department of your nearest hospital, or call 999 and ask for an ambulance.
The most common type of ligament damage is a torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL). The ACL is one of four ligaments in your knee. It can be torn if you suddenly stop or change direction, or if you land incorrectly from a jump. If you tear your ACL, you may hear a pop or crack at the time of your injury.
An ACL tear is a fairly common sports injury, and around 20% of all sports-related knee injuries involve the ACL. The symptoms of a torn ACL include:
- severe pain in your knee
- instability in your knee, which means you cannot put much weight on it
- swelling in your knee
- not having the full range of movement in your knee and, in particular, not being able to straighten your leg
Depending on the severity of your ACL tear, you may need to have reconstructive surgery to repair it.