Treatment for a sports injury will depend on factors such as how severe the injury is and the part of your body affected.
Information and advice about treatments for specific injuries:
- back pain
- broken arm or wrist
- broken ankle
- broken leg
- cartilage damage
- dislocated shoulder
- hamstring injuries
- heel pain
- minor head injuries
- severe head injuries
- shoulder pain
- sprains and strains
- tennis elbow
Some general treatments that may be helpful for your injury include:
Minor injuries, such as mild sprains and strains, can often be initially treated at home using RICE therapy for 2 or 3 days.
RICE stands for protection, rest, ice, compression and elevation.
- 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. A sling may help if you've injured your shoulder.
- Ice – apply an ice pack to the affected area for 15 to 20 minutes every 2 to 3hours. A bag of frozen peas, or similar, will work well. Wrap the ice pack in a towel so that it does not directly touch your skin and cause 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 your heart whenever possible. This may also help reduce swelling.
Painkillers, such as paracetamol, can be used to help ease the pain.
Ibuprofen and other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) tablets or creams can also be used to ease pain and reduce any swelling.
For strains and sprains, some doctors and pharmacists recommend waiting 48 hours before taking ibuprofen as it may slow down healing. If you're unsure speak to a pharmacist.
Aspirin should not be given to children under 16 years old.
Immobilisation can sometimes help 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 have a sprain, prolonged immobilisation is not usually necessary, and you should try gently moving the affected joint as soon as you're able to do so without experiencing significant pain.
Some people recovering from a long term injury may benefit from physiotherapy.
It's a specialist treatment where techniques such as massage, manipulation and exercises are used to improve range of motion, strengthen the surrounding muscles, and return the normal function of the 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.
A steroid injection may be recommended if you have severe or persistent inflammation.
It can help 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, a steroid injection can be repeated, but you'll usually only be able to have 2 or 3 injections a year.
Side effects can include thinning of the skin, loss of fat, and infection. The doctor treating you will be able to explain the possible side effects in more detail.
Surgery and procedures
Most sports injuries do not require surgery, but very severe injuries such as badly broken bones may require corrective treatment. This may include a manipulation or surgery to fix the bones with wires, plates, screws or rods.
In some cases, it may be possible to 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.
Recovery from an injury
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 should not return to your previous level of activity until you've 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 do not try to do too much too quickly because this can delay recovery. Start by doing frequent repetitions of a few simple exercises before gradually increasing the amount you do.
In some cases, the help of a professional, such as a physiotherapist or sports injury specialist, may be beneficial. They can design a suitable recovery programme and advise you about the exercises you should do and the number of repetitions.
Read more about accessing physiotherapy.
Page last reviewed: 31 March 2020
Next review due: 31 March 2023