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Sporting injuries

Exercise; sport; injury; muscles; tendons; sprain; strain; fracture; RICE; warming; up; safety; cross; training; MSA; steroid; youth;


Sport and other physical activities are fun and a great way to keep fit and feel good. When you enjoy sport and physical activity, the last thing you want is to miss out on sport because of injury. The good news is that many sporting injuries can be prevented.

Common sports/exercise related injuries

Sporting injuries usually fall into two separate groups. These are 'traumatic' or acute injuries, and injuries caused by 'over use'.

sports injury - wheel chair

Traumatic or acute injuries

Traumatic injuries are caused by a specific event.

Some examples of traumatic injuries are: 

  • sports injury - broken legtwisting an ankle while running
  • wrenching a knee by landing awkwardly
  • strains, sprains and broken bones
  • cuts, grazes and bruises
  • head injuries
  • injuries caused by being hit by a ball or other equipment used in your sport, falls, or contact with another competitor or participant.

Over-use injuries

These are injuries that happen more gradually and are caused by over using or over working a body part or muscle group.


  • a baseball pitcher over-using his arm for a whole season
  • one time of over use (the same pitcher pitching too long in one game)
  • a ballet dancer over-using the feet, ankles, legs and back
  • a weight lifter using the same muscles over and over
  • tennis elbow.

Prevention of common sport/ exercise injuries

All of the injuries mentioned above can be very painful. They can mess up your sporting fun and your daily life. A serious injury to your wrist or shoulder could stop you being able to do basic things like dressing and undressing yourself, or washing your own hair in the shower. If your leg or another body part is in plaster, even having a shower can turn into a circus.

I twisted my ankle in netball. I couldn't stand on it for two weeks. I didn't have a bath in my flat, only a shower, and couldn't stand on one leg long enough to wash my hair properly. I had to go and pay a hairdresser to wash my hair twice a week. And I felt really stupid going into the hairdresser for that.

Amanda-Jayne, 24 years

Fortunately, there are some basic steps you can take to reduce your chances of becoming injured during your exercise routine or your favourite sport.

Here are some guidelines that you can follow in preventing traumatic injury.

  • Warm up and cool down correctly before and after physical activity.
  • Use the proper safety equipment.
  • Drink plenty of fluids while exercising.

Warming up and cooling down

One of the most important things you can do to reduce the risk of serious injury is to warm up before strenuous activity, and to take the time to cool down' afterwards.

  • Walk around or pedal an exercise bike for 10 minutes. This will warm up your muscles, get your heart pumping and the blood flowing through your body. It will get the muscles ready to work well while playing sport or working out. These same exercises can be used to cool down afterwards.
  • Gently stretch muscle areas, holding each stretch for 10 – 20 seconds.
    • Stretching your muscles before and after sport or exercise will make your muscles more flexible and reduce risk of injuries such as muscle strain.
    • It is important to remember not to 'bounce' or use jerky movements when stretching.
    • Try for a slow even stretch, stopping when you feel muscle resistance (and before you feel any pain). Hold the stretch for about 20 seconds, then slowly return to your starting position.
    • Regular stretching exercises will help your body perform better during sport or exercise as well as other daily activities.
  • Your cool down routine should be similar and should include some gentle exercise that allows your body to cool down as well as some stretches. Cooling down properly means less stiffness and muscle soreness the next day.

Use the proper safety equipment

If any kind of safety equipment is recommended for your sport or activity, make sure you use it. Sport 'safety' equipment is important because certain types of injuries are common in certain activities. Safety equipment should be used during training as well as during the actual game or activity. Using the proper safety equipment will reduce your risk of injuries.

Sport Safety Equipment

Skateboarding Inline skating

helmet, elbow pads, knee pads


shin pads

Horse riding

helmet, proper boots


pads, gloves, helmet and a "box" (for males)

Cycling, motor cycling

helmet (Note: It is illegal in South Australia to ride either a bicycle or motor cycle without a helmet).

Motor cycle riders should also wear thick protective clothing and gloves


batters wear a helmet when batting. catchers wear a helmet, facemask and chest protector gloves

Contact ball sports like Australian Rules football, rugby or hockey

mouth guard, shoes with studs, other padding


Whatever sport or physical activity you choose, make sure that you wear good quality, well fitting footwear. (It doesn't have to be the most expensive brand; good quality shoes can be less expensive because some companies don't spend as much on advertising.)

Suitable shoes will support your feet and ankles, and help absorb high impacts like jumping and running. This is especially important in games like football, netball, and basketball, where knee and ankle injuries are very common.


It is important to have drinks before, during and after sport and physical activity. This is to help avoid heat related injury. Getting too hot can lead to dehydration, heat exhaustion and heat stroke. This can be fatal.

Heat related injuries

Here are some more tips to avoid heat related injury.

  • If it's a hot day, avoid outdoor exercise, especially in the hottest part of the day between about 11 am and 3 pm. If it's really hot, it can be best to consider cancelling the event. If cancelling isn’t an option the umpire or referee can call more breaks, for drinks and cooling down, for the health and safety of players.
  • For sport on hot/warm days a grassy shaded area is better than an open sunny area, especially if a sunny area has a hot surface, such as a tarmac. Even better, is an indoor, air-conditioned venue.
  • Games or sport that are run over a long time, like long distance running, build up more heat in your body than quicker events like a 100 metre hurdle race. Keep this in mind.
  • If you have put on weight since you last played sport, or if you aren't fit, you are at increased risk of a heat related injury. Take it easy. Build up your fitness slowly but surely. Have a medical check before starting a fitness program or sport.
  • Wear a shady wide brimmed hat - and sunscreen.
  • Avoid alcohol immediately after sport. Alcohol dehydrates your body.

Cross training

Cross training means doing a variety of exercises/sports as part of your exercise program.

People who spend all of their time training for and playing one kind of sport may find that they are over using some muscle groups and joints, and basically ignoring others. For example, keen cyclists will build strength and muscle in their legs and lower body and improve their 'aerobic' fitness, but may be quite weak in their upper body. These people could benefit from activities such as rowing or resistance training to build up upper body strength. Another good reason for cross training is to make sure that 'oppositional' muscle groups are developed evenly.

Runners, joggers and walkers usually have strong hamstrings (muscles at the back of the thighs), but these activities don't put as much strain on the quadriceps, an opposing muscle group at the front of the thighs. This means that the hamstrings are much stronger than the quadriceps. These two muscle groups are designed to work together but if one is stronger than the other, this can cause instability of the knee joints that can result in serious knee injuries.

By alternating running or walking with another activity such as cycling or weight training, you can ensure that all of the muscles in your legs are getting an even work out.

Gradually building up strength and flexibility in all muscle groups will increase the muscle's ability to support joints and to absorb impact and protect the bones, all of which will greatly reduce the likelihood of injury.

More tips to avoid injuries

  • Have regular and thorough physical examinations, especially before beginning training or a sporting season.
  • Choose sporting clubs and venues carefully.
  • Choose venues that have equipment to deal with injury at the sporting site.
  • Choose clubs which have coaches who care for the physical health of individuals.
  • Choose venues that use umpires who won't accept foul play and rough play.

Treatment of sporting injuries

Any injury should be treated properly to prevent any further injury. This means looking after the injury by using the RICE steps immediately the injury happens. It also means letting the injury completely heal before returning to play. Use the 'MSA' steps to help you with this.

It is important to treat any injury as soon as possible. If it is obvious that a bone is broken, if the injured area swells rapidly or if the area below the injury goes white, cold or numb, you need to seek medical treatment immediately.

Less severe injuries including minor sprains and strains should be treated straight away, using the R.I.C.E steps.

R: Rest
Rest from activity. You might have to take the weight off your foot or leg or support your arm or shoulder in a sling, depending on the injury. Keep the weight off the injured joint for at least 24-48 hours.

I: Ice
Apply ice or a cold pack to the site of the injury as soon as possible. This will help reduce swelling. Keep the ice on the injury for about 10 minutes, and reapply every hour for the first 72 hours. Do not apply heat to a fresh injury! This will increase swelling and make an injury worse!

C: Compression
Firmly wrap the injured area, using an elastic bandage if possible. This will support the joint and also help to reduce any swelling.

Don't wrap the bandage too tight! This will make the swelling worse!

Don't try to use the injured area just because it is bandaged. The injury will need complete rest for 1-2 days.

E: Elevation
Try to keep the injured area elevated above the level of the heart when ever you are sitting or lying down.

If an injury is still painful you should see a doctor to make sure that the injury is not more serious than you first thought. Your doctor may need to prescribe 'anti-inflammatory' medication, or want to send you for x-rays to find out the extent of the damage.

After a joint or muscle group has had time to heal, you need to help it recover fully by introducing 'MSA'.

M: Movement
After 1-2 days of rest, begin moving the injured joint (without putting weight on it). If the movement hurts, the joint will require more rest.

Moving the joint will help prevent internal scar tissue from restricting the joint's range of movement in the future.

S: Strength
Once the injury has healed and a full range of motion is possible, you may need to do some special exercises to strengthen the muscles that have been weakened by the injury. Your doctor, trainer or coach should be able to advise you about what is needed.

A: Alternate activities
Having an injury doesn't mean an end to your exercise program. It is possible to work 'around' an injury so that you can maintain overall fitness while still allowing the injury time to heal. For example, if you have injured a knee or ankle, you could do upper body work in the gym, or even swimming. If you have injured an arm or shoulder, you could still ride an exercise bike, walk or weight training for the lower body.

In some sports, someone may encourage you to try steroids to help your injury heal faster. Steroids are dangerous and can cause heart failure and damage to other organs. Many types of steroids are designed for treating farm animals and not for use by human beings. The methods described above are the best ways of healing an injury. Do not allow anyone to talk you into using steroids for any reason.

For more information have a look at http://www.cleanedge.com.au/pub/pstart.asp

The 'blood rule'

The "blood rule" is being used in sports to protect other players against Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C.  Any player who is bleeding from an injury must come off, have the injury cleaned (gloves are worn by the person cleaning the injury) and then a water proof dressing is applied before the player can return.  This also protects other players against HIV, but HIV is not as likely to be transmitted as Hep B or Hep C.

For more information about the blood rule look at 'Sports Medicine Australia' http://www.sma.org.au/information/blood_rules.asp  

Word meanings

A 'strain' is the word used to describe an injury that happens when a muscle is damaged by being 'over stretched'. You have probably heard of football players who miss games because of 'hamstring' or 'groin' injuries. These are usually 'strain' injuries caused by a movement or action that stretched a particular muscle further than it was able to go without being damaged.

The word 'sprain' is used to describe an injury to the muscles, tendons and ligaments surrounding a joint such as an ankle or wrist. This type of injury can be caused by an awkward fall or landing, where the joint is 'forced' past its usual range of movement.

Fracture (broken bone):
Broken bones are usually the result of some kind of impact. This could include being hit or kicked by an opponent, or be caused by a combination of momentum (the force caused by movement) and your own body weight during a fall. The term 'broken bones' is used to describe cracks in bone, clean breaks where the bone 'snaps', and 'compound fractures' where the skin over the broken bone is cut or torn.

Stress fracture:
Stress fractures are tiny cracks or weak spots usually in the bones in the feet or lower legs. Stress fractures are also most common in people who perform 'high impact' sporting activities that involve a lot of running or jumping on hard surfaces. Your muscles usually absorb 'shock' when you move, like shock absorbers on a car. If you run, jump or exercise for too long or too often, your muscles become tired and are unable to absorb as much impact. This exposes the bones to increased stress, and fine cracks begin to appear in the surface of the bone.



  • If you suffer an injury while playing sport or exercising, you should see a doctor or health professional. Make an appointment to see your own doctor, or check the phone book for a sports injury clinic in your local area.
  • If your injury is serious, you should seek medical treatment immediately. You may need to go to the casualty section of the nearest hospital. For severe injury call an ambulance. The telephone number for an ambulance in Australia is 000.


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The information on this site should not be used as an alternative to professional care. If you have a particular problem, see a doctor or other health professional.
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