Examples of sports injuries 

Sport injuries can affect almost any part of the body, including the muscles, bones, joints and connective tissues (tendons and ligaments).

Sprains and strains are the most common type of sports injury. A sprain happens when one or more of the ligaments are stretched, twisted or torn. A muscle strain ("pulling a muscle") happens when muscle tissues or fibres are stretched or torn.

Signs of a sprain or strain can include pain, swelling, bruising and tenderness around a joint or in a muscle. You may also find it difficult to move the affected body part.

Other sports injuries include:

Click on the links below to find out how these conditions are treated, or see the page on treating sports injuries for more general information.

Back pain

Many sports carry a risk of causing back pain, which is usually caused by a sprain or strain in the back. Properly warming up before exercise can reduce this risk.

Back pain is often felt as soreness, tension or stiffness in the lower back, but it can be felt anywhere from the neck and shoulders down to the buttocks and legs.

Bone injuries

Repetitive activity or a heavy impact while playing sport can injure bones, causing:

  • stress fractures – bone pain caused by a tiny crack that develops in a bone as a result of repeated stresses (for example, during high-impact activities like distance running)
  • shin splints – painful shins caused by inflammation in the tissues surrounding the shin bone; this is common in any sport that involves running
  • a broken ankle
  • a broken arm or wrist
  • a broken leg
  • a broken toe
  • a broken finger

A broken bone may cause swelling, significant bruising and tenderness around the injured area, and bleeding if the bone has broken the skin (open fracture). It's unlikely you will be able to use the affected limb.

The pain associated with a broken bone can also be severe and make you feel faint, dizzy and sick.

If any part of your body looks deformed, including your fingers, you may have broken a bone and you need to go to your nearest accident and emergency (A&E) department.

Read information on how to tell if you have broken a bone.

Hamstring injuries

Hamstring injuries are tears to the tendons or large muscles at the back of the thighs. They are common among athletes.

Sudden lunging, running or jumping can cause the hamstring tendons or muscles to tear, which can be felt or heard as a pop and will be immediately painful. The muscle will spasm (seize up) and feel tight and tender. In some cases, there may also be swelling and bruising.

Head injuries 

Minor head injuries, such as bumps or bruises, are common and not usually serious. If you have any concerns, see your GP or local walk-in centre.

You should go to your nearest accident and emergency (A&E) department or call 999 and ask for an ambulance if any symptoms of a severe head injury develop, such as:

  • unconsciousness, even if it was only very brief
  • 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
  • significantly blurred vision or double vision
  • difficulty understanding what people say
  • vomiting

Read more about the signs of a severe head injury.

Heel pain

Heel pain can happen when the thick band of tissue that runs under the sole of the foot becomes damaged. It's common in runners and joggers.

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 some people have pain in both heels.

Heel pain and stiffness can also sometimes be caused by damage to the Achilles tendon, which runs up the back of the heel. This damage can occur gradually over a long period of time, or the tendon can snap (rupture) suddenly.

If you experience sudden and severe pain in your heel, which may be accompanied by a "popping" or "snapping" sound, you may have ruptured your Achilles tendon and should seek medical advice immediately.

Inflamed joints

Joint inflammation can be caused by conditions that affect the joints and tendons, such as:

  • bursitis – inflammation of a bursa, which is a small fluid-filled sac underneath the skin, usually found over the joints and between tendons and bones; this is common in the knee, hip and elbow
  • tendonitis – inflammation of a tendon around the shoulder, elbow, wrist, finger, thigh, knee or back of the heel

Tennis elbow is a type of tendonitis that affects the outside of the elbow, caused by repetitive movement of the muscles in the lower arm. Golfer’s elbow is similar, but the swelling occurs on the inside of the elbow.

Knee pain

Sudden knee pain is common in contact sports, especially those that involve twisting, and is usually caused by a sprain, strain or tendonitis.

Other knee injuries include:

  • Runner’s knee – caused by overuse of the knee. Symptoms include soreness and discomfort beneath or to one side of your kneecap. It can also cause a grating sensation in your knee.
  • Cartilage damage – where a piece of cartilage breaks off and affects the movement of your joint. This can cause a feeling of the joint locking or catching. Sometimes, the joint may also give way.
  • A torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) – see below.  

Knee ligament damage

The ACL is one of four ligaments in your knee. It can tear if you suddenly stop or change direction, or if you land badly from a jump. If you tear your ACL, you may hear a pop or crack at the time of your injury.

Other symptoms of a torn ACL include:

  • severe pain in your knee
  • instability in your knee, which means you cannot put much weight on it – especially when going up or down stairs
  • swelling in your knee
  • not having the full range of movement in your knee and, in particular, not being able to straighten your leg completely

Shoulder pain

Shoulder pain is common in sports that include repetitive movement, such as overarm bowling or throwing. Tendons around the shoulder (the rotor cuff) can become inflamed (tendonitis) or torn, causing pain.

A dislocated shoulder may be caused by a heavy fall or a sudden impact. The upper arm painfully "pops" out of the shoulder joint and you will not be able to move the arm.

If you have a dislocated shoulder, you should go to the A&E department of your nearest hospital. It may help to support the arm with a sling while you make your way there.

Skin injuries

Rubbing or chafing of skin can be caused by poorly fitting shoes or clothes. Making sure you wear proper sports gear will help to prevent this.

If you have a severe skin injury, such as a deep, open wound in the skin, you should seek medical advice as soon as possible. Treatment may be needed to stop the bleeding, and stitches may be required.


Page last reviewed: 25/02/2015

Next review due: 25/02/2017