Sports Injuries

Updated 30 May 2016

Common sports injuries

Certain sports injuries are more common than others. These include sprains, strains and muscle, ligament or tendon tears.

A sports injury can be either acute or chronic. An acute injury is one which occurs abruptly and is often the cause of injuries such as sprained ankles, fractures and strained backs. 

A chronic injury is one which does not come on suddenly bur rather occurs as a result of overuse of a certain limb or joint over a long period of time.

Generally the most common causes behind sports injuries are from unintentional accidents, using bad form during an exercise, performing an inadequate warm-up prior to exercise or doing a sport or from performing exercises or partaking in a sport which is beyond your ability.

Areas of the body most commonly affected include joints, ligaments, tendons.

Common injuries include sprains and strains, tendon injuries, fractures and dislocations.


Sprains occur when a ligament tears. Typically caused by trauma knocking a joint out of position and damaging supporting ligaments. Areas most affected include ankles, knees, and wrists. 


Strains are caused by a twist, pull, or tearing of a muscle or tendon from overstretching or over-contraction of a muscle.

Tendon injuries

Tendons can be torn or completely rupture which can be extremely painful. If the tendon is completely ruptured it will need to be repaired surgically whereas a partial tea, called tendinitis, is usually a cause of ageing or overuse.

Tendinitis: This refers to acute tendon injuries which occur with inflammation.

Tendinosis: This is a chronic condition which occurs over time from small tendon injuries which don't heal properly. Inflammation is not characteristic, although can occur at the initial injury.

Tendinopathy: Tendinopathy is a general term for tendon damage caused by overuse, microtears, and collagen degeneration, evidenced by inflammation, pain, and weakness. The joint areas most commonly affected by tendinopathy are the shoulder, elbow, wrist, hip, knee, and ankle.

Joint injuries

Knee injuries most commonly often occur from hard twisting or sharp bending movements, hard landings, improper warm-ups and forceful extension. Often damage is caused to the cartilage or ligaments in and around the knee.


Fractures can either be caused a result of hard, sudden impact (acute), or as a result of repetitive stress to that bone over time (stress fracture).


Dislocations arise when two bones which are joined at a joint are dislocated from each other. Those most are risk for this type of injury include people who participate in contact sports such as rugby, wrestling and martial arts. The joints most commonly affected include the ankles, knees, shoulders, hips, elbows and jaw.


Concussion is a mild, traumatic brain injury, common in many sports such as rugby and cricket. Identifying a concussion and providing appropriate treatment as soon as possible is vital, especially for younger athletes. One of the main areas for concern with concussion is that players often return to play too soon.

Although concussion is generally short-lived and lasts between 7 to 10 days, this can put them at risk for other concussions and repeat concussions can have long-term consequences.

Common symptoms of concussion include drowsiness, headache, loss of consciousness, memory loss, Irritability and confusion and balance problems with dizziness.

Read more:

Causes of sports injuries 

Symptoms of sports injuries 

Preventing sports injuries


Handout on Health: Sports Injuries: NIH Publication No. 13–5278;

Sports Injuries; Mediline Plus ( 2 October 2014);

Achilles Tendon Injuries; Sports Medicine Australia;

Dislocations:Mediline Plus; US National Library of Medicine (27 January 2014);

American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons: Sports Concussions (Wayne J. Sebastianelli, MD); (December 2010);


Ask the Expert

Sports Injuries Expert

Adrian Rotunno is a medical doctor in the Sports & Exercise Medicine fellowship at the Sports Science Institute of South Africa, and qualified physiotherapist. Team physician for Dimension Data pro-cycling, and Boland Rugby. Special interests include endurance sport, in particular cycling, as well as contact sports.

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