Sport & Exercise Injuries: THE BASICS

Activity and exercise are good for us – reduced heart disease, increased energy, easier weight control, and greater self-esteem are all good things. But almost two thirds of adults do not regularly exercise these days. It is a real problem. Why does this happen? There are many reasons, but injury is an important one.

Sports injuries are very important: they are inconvenient, painful, potentially debilitating or even disabling, and perhaps most importantly: one of the most common reasons for people to stop exercising. Let’s take a look at sports injuries in general: what they are, what causes them…

Injuries affect the various structures of the body, mainly:

  • BONES – hard tissue that forms the skeleton, the framework of the body.
  • JOINTS – the structures where bones meet and move against each other.
  • LIGAMENTS – strong bands of tissue that stabilise joints and prevent them moving excessively.
  • MUSCLES – using energy (from food) muscles contract to move bones, and thus the body.
  • TENDONS – strong fibrous tissue that joins muscle to bone, allowing the muscles to move the bones.

Muscles contract and because their tendons attach them to bones, they move the bones. One bone moves against another at a joint, with the motion being stabilised by ligaments.

Of course, there are literally thousands of ways to get injured during sport and exercise, but there are certain common TYPES of injury that are worth considering:

  • Sprains and Strains – the key characteristic of these injuries is inflammation: a medical term for swelling. Something is injured and it swells up in response. This swelling is painful and may (infrequently) lead to scarring. Commonly affects muscles, ligaments, and tendons.
  • Tears – if the injury is more severe, the structure may tear. Commonly affects muscles and ligaments.
  • Fractures – broken bones. May refer to small cracks, or large open fractures where the bone is broken into two (or more) pieces. Fractures usually occur suddenly but stress fractures occur more gradually and result from long-term excessive use/strain.
  • Dislocations – refers to joints being “out of position”. Usually the result of some excessive force, dislocations are extremely painful and must be corrected (put back) as quickly as possible.

Now we understand WHAT is injured, WHAT TYPE of injuries occur, we need to look at HOW these injuries occur. The main mechanisms of injury are:

  • Direct trauma – something hits the body or the body hits something. Example: broken fingers from cricket balls.
  • Excess resistance/strain – stretching the body beyond what it can do. Example: strained/torn muscles from weightlifting.
  • Overuse – excessive repetitive activity. Example: stress fractures (shin splints) from running.
  • Exhaustion – being too tired to avoid injury. Example: neck injuries from being too tired to scrum correctly in rugby.
  • Poor technique – executing activities in a manner that encourages injury. Example: sprained back ligaments from doing sit-ups incorrectly.
  • Poor/inappropriate equipment – using the wrong tools for the job. Example: ankle sprains from unsupportive hiking boots.

So there you have it. Bones, tendons, muscles, ligaments and joints can be injured via strain, sprain, tear, fracture and dislocation, these injuries occurring from direct trauma, strain, overuse, exhaustion, poor technique, or poor equipment. This should give you a fair understanding of the main types of sports injury, and how they occur. In a related article we will consider prevention, treatment, and recovery…