Whether you’re an avid athlete nursing chronic pain or rolled your ankle while walking the dog, sports injuries—sprains, strains, tears and breaks—can happen to anyone. They can occur throughout your body, anywhere from your muscles and bones to your tendons and ligaments.
But before you head to the ER or urgent care, there are a number of ways you can treat sports injuries at home—with ice, rest, compression, elevation and over-the-counter pain medications. Below, take a look at the different types of injuries—and how to treat them—so you can be back on your feet in no time.
What are sports injuries?
A sports injury involves any type of injury that causes damage to your body due to sports, exercise, or athletic activities. Sports injuries can be either acute—sudden injuries—or chronic—injuries that develop over time.
What are the most common sports injuries?
There are many different types of sports injuries. The most common include:
- Broken bone. A broken bone, or bone fracture, can occur when the bone runs into a stronger force, or from repetitive force, like running.
- Cartilage tear. Cartilage is a tremendously strong and flexible fibrous tissue. However, it can still be damaged. Cartilage injuries usually occur in joints such as your knee or shoulder.
- Concussion. A concussion is a traumatic brain injury that affects your brain function, usually caused by a blow or bump to your head.
- Dislocation. A dislocation is an injury in which the ends of your bones are forced from their normal positions.
- Tendinitis. Tendons are the thick fibrous cords that attach muscle to bone, and can become swollen and inflamed in tendinitis. This condition is usually caused by repetitive movements over time, like tennis elbow.
- Sprains. Ligaments are tough bands of fibrous tissue that connect two bones together in your joints. When a ligament stretches too much or tears, a sprain can happen—most commonly in your ankle, knee, and wrist.
- Strains. A strain occurs when you overextend a muscle and it stretches or tears.
What are the signs and symptoms of sports injuries?
Depending on your injury, there are a wide range of signs and symptoms associated with sports injuries. These include:
- Aches, pain or tenderness
- Deformity, such as a bone or joint looking out of place
- Decreased range of motion
- Grinding, cracking, clicking or popping noise
- Inability to bear weight on your hip, leg or foot
- Skin that’s warm to the touch
- Stiffness or weakness
- Trouble moving a body part normally
How is a sports injury diagnosed?
First, your healthcare provider will perform a routine physical exam, and ask questions about your injury—like how it happened and what your symptoms are and have been. They’ll specifically examine the injured area, testing your pain sensitivity and range of motion.
Depending on the severity of your injury, you may also need to have a number of imaging tests done, including an X-ray, CT scan or MRI. These imaging tests will help your healthcare provider understand the extent of your injury, and help with diagnosis and treatment.
How are sports injuries treated?
Treatment for your injury will depend on the type of injury you have. While some injuries will require more extensive care, many will heal in time and by using at-home treatments.
Treatment for more serious injuries includes:
- Immobilization with a cast, splint, sling, walking boot or other medical device
- Injections to reduce swelling and pain
- Prescription anti-inflammatory medications
- Surgery to correct fractures or repair ligament, tendon or cartilage tears
- Physical therapy to heal and strengthen injured body parts
What are some at-home treatments for sports injuries?
If you get hurt while exercising or playing sports, stop the activity immediately. Most minor sports injuries will heal within a few days. The following at-home methods can help:
- Rest. Avoid using the injured area as much as you can for a number of days. Crutches can help with this if you’ve injured a part of your lower body.
- Ice. Applying ice to the injured area can help reduce pain and swelling. Start by applying an ice pack or something cold to the area for 15 to 20 minutes every four hours.
- Compression. Wrapping the injured area in some sort of elastic bandage can provide support and reduce swelling. While you want the wrap to be snug, make sure it’s not so tight as to cut off blood circulation.
- Elevation. If possible, prop the injured area above the level of your heart. This will help to rest the area and reduce swelling.
You can also take nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, or NSAIDs, such as ibuprofen or naproxen, to reduce pain and inflammation.
While exercise and physical activity are important for your overall health, it’s also important to care for yourself and rest if you get injured. Sports injuries are incredibly common, but the good news is that many can be cared for at home with proper rest and treatment. But if pain, swelling, bruising or inability to use the injured area doesn’t get better in a few hours or days, contact your healthcare provider to discuss further treatment.