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The 5 Most Common Sports-Related Injuries

Sports have the power to bring athletes—and their fans—to the highest of highs, as well as the lowest of lows. The highs usually include achieving an optimal fitness level, performing well on a consistent basis, and winning lots of games, matches, or races. The lows can include just about anything that prevents an athlete or their team from reaching their goals, and easily the biggest culprit that can derail this course is injury.

Participating in a sport is one of the best choices you can make for your health, as regular physical activity is associated with a bounty of both physical and mental benefits. But along with all the good that sports can bring about, there is also an inherent risk for injury that unfortunately cannot be avoided. All sports are associated with some risk for injury risk due to their physical toll on the body through contact, collisions, and excessive exertion, regardless of its intensity. While many injuries are minor and only sideline athletes for a short period, others can have serious long–term repercussions.

According to recent statistics, about 8.6 million injuries related to sports and recreational activities occur each year. Injuries can occur in any sport and at any age, but younger athletes report more injuries than older athletes, as approximately 65% of injuries occur in athletes between the ages of 5–24 years. The incidence of injuries is also slightly higher in male athletes (61%) than female athletes (39%), and general exercise—like running and other aerobic activity—and basketball are the most common physical activities associated with injury.

The 5 most common injuries across all sports

The degree of injury risk and the type of injuries that are most likely to occur vary drastically from sport to sport, with higher levels of intensity and physical exertion generally associated with greater odds for injury. But some injuries deserve special attention because they are seen frequently across nearly all sports, often sidelining athletes in the process. Below, we present our selection of the 5 most common sports–related injuries:

  1. Sprains and strains
    • Sprains and strains together represent the two most common injuries overall in sports (we’re grouping them together because their mechanisms and occurrence rates are very similar); sprains occur when a ligament—the tough tissue that connects bones together in a joint—is suddenly stretched beyond its limits and damaged in the process; strains are injuries to muscle fibers or tendons—which anchor muscles to bones—and often occur from over–stretching or overusing a muscle
  2. Knee injuries
    • Nearly half of all sports–related injuries involve the lower extremity (legs, ankles, and feet), and the knee is the most frequently injured joint in the body due to its large size, complex anatomy, and frequent use; traumatic sports injuries involving the knee typically result from falls onto the knee, extreme cutting movements, or landing from a jump incorrectly, any of which can push certain structures of the knee too far and cause them to sprain or tear; overuse knee injuries can also occur from too much repetition without sufficient rest
    • Two of the most common knee injuries are anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tears and patellofemoral pain syndrome
  3. Shoulder injuries
    • The shoulder is the most flexible and mobile joint in the body, but it is also one of the weakest, and it’s subject to a great deal of force in sports; this makes it one of the most common locations for sports injuries, as shoulder pain affects up to 26% of adults at some point; shoulder injuries are most likely to occur in sports that involve overhead motions, particularly baseball, softball, tennis, and quarterbacks in football
  4. Foot and ankle injuries
    • The feet and ankles are another hotspot for injury because of the heavy loads they withstand from the rest of the body during sports and physical activities, since many sports involve running and/or jumping; there are several structures and mechanisms in place that increase the durability of the feet and ankles, but they have a breaking point; over time, repetitive abuse can push these structures past this point and can lead to damage and lead to a wide range of potential injuries.
  5. Golfer’s elbow and tennis elbow
    • Golfer’s elbow and tennis elbow are two common sports–related injuries that occur most frequently in the sports that bear their nicknames:

In our next post, we’ll look at some of the most effective ways to prevent sports–related injuries.

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