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Sports medicine and injuries

Overview of sports medicine and injuries

Sports medicine focuses on the prevention, diagnosis, and nonsurgical treatment of sports-related injuries. Sports medicine doctors care for sports teams, individual athletes, and other physically active people. They are experts in helping people who want to improve their general fitness or athletic performance and prevent injuries while doing so.

Sports medicine specialists primarily treat injuries that occur during athletics or exercising. Sports injuries often refer to orthopedic injuries or injuries to the musculoskeletal system. This includes your bones, joints, muscles, tendons, ligaments, and other soft tissues. 

Dignity Health has a team of professionals ready to help you stay healthy and enjoy the activities you love. If you’ve experienced a sports injury, we’re here to help. We can diagnose your injury, guide the right treatment, and provide expert care with humankindness. Find a Doctor near you today.


The signs and symptoms of sports injuries vary, depending on the specific body part and severity. Pain is a common symptom.

The type of pain depends on whether the injury is acute (sudden) or chronic (long-lasting). Acute injuries tend to cause sharp or severe pain, while pain from chronic injuries can be dull and achy and develop over time.

Other common symptoms of sports injuries include:

  • Swelling
  • Stiffness
  • Redness
  • Bruising
  • Reduced range of motion or difficulty moving a limb (arm or leg) or putting weight on it
  • Weakness

If you’ve experienced a fracture or dislocation, the affected body part may also appear deformed or out of place.


Acute injuries such as fractures and dislocations are often the result of accidental trauma. This could mean falls or direct blows to the body.

Failing to warm up properly before engaging in sports, other exercises, or stretching can also lead to connective tissue injuries such as pulled muscles.

Other common causes of sports injuries include:

  • Not using protective gear during activity
  • Using improper gear
  • Engaging in an activity with inadequate training or insufficient conditioning
  • Using poor body mechanics or form
  • Overtraining or trying to “push through” an injury
  • Training only specific muscle groups at the expense of others

Chronic sports injuries can develop from repetitive motion that continually irritates the tissue. Acute injuries that do not get treated properly can become chronic conditions.


Some of the conditions a sports medicine specialist treats are:

  • Back pain occurring with exercise or sports
  • Dislocated or broken bones, including leg, ankle, knee, shoulder, arm, elbow, wrist, hand, and collarbone fractures
  • Female athlete triad, which is a condition that includes menstrual cycle changes, inadequate calorie intake, and decreased bone density
  • Foot pain from heel conditions, including bone spurs, bursitis, arthritis, and plantar fasciitis
  • Head injuries, including concussion
  • Heat injuries, including dehydration, heat exhaustion, and heatstroke
  • Joint and ligament injuries, including ACL injuries, sprained ankle, meniscal tear, knee pain, cartilage injuries, shoulder impingement, shoulder dislocation, tennis elbow, and frozen shoulder
  • Soft tissue injuries, such as bruises or muscle and tendon strains, including groin pulls and hamstring pulls
  • Overuse injuries, including repetitive stress injuries (RSIs), stress fractures, shin splints, and tendonitis
  • Skin injuries, including chafing, blisters, and heat rash

Risk factors

While most sports injuries are accidental, your risk may increase if you:

  • Stretch on cold muscles or without adequate warm-up
  • Overtrain
  • Push through pain during activity
  • Use poor form
  • Engage in activity without proper training
  • Use improper, inadequate, or improperly fitted safety gear
  • Engage in high-impact activity without appropriate conditioning


Preventing sports injuries is not always possible, but you can reduce your risk by:

  • Using proper form
  • Using proper equipment
  • Making sure you have the right training and appropriate physical fitness for an activity
  • Resting after an injury
  • Making sure you warm up and cool down before and after activity

One of the most critical steps in the prevention of sports injuries is to stop playing or exercising when you get hurt. Do not disregard or deny persistent aches and pains. Pushing through the pain can cause more harm and put you out of commission for a more extended period of time.

The next step is usually RICE (rest, ice, compression, and elevation) with over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medicines, if necessary.

Seek medical care if you have severe pain, swelling, numbness, deformity, or the inability to put weight on or move a joint or limb.

The information contained in this article is meant for educational purposes only and should not replace advice from your healthcare provider.