The Most Common Sports Injuries - and How To Prevent Them
While physical activity and participation in sports have an extensive number of benefits, there is always the possibility of injury. An estimated 5.6 million athletes are affected by a sports injury each year. Of those injuries counted in this study, the majority of them were the same type of injury or isolated to the same part of the body.
These common sports injuries can occur at any age and to anyone, no matter if you’re a professional or exercising just to stay healthy.
Even participating in low impact sports like golf, swimming, or walking have the potential to lead to injury. The good news is that most sports-related injuries are treatable, and athletes can return to activities after a short rehabilitation time.
As an athlete or at least a frequent gym-goer, you may think that injuries are all just a part of being active.
This idea may partly be accurate, but knowing common causes of common injuries as well as preventative measures will lower your chances of injury significantly. Some injuries may be pure bad luck, but the majority can be prevented and avoided with proper technique, nutrition, and knowledge.
What Are the Most Common Sports Injuries?
Before we jump right into discussing how to prevent the most common sports injuries, we need to focus on what those injuries are. Our most common sports injury list is not all inclusive of every possible injury.
The five sports injuries that occur most often amongst athletes in the United States include:
- Muscle Strain
- Knee/Shoulder Injuries
- Shin Splints
A muscle strain refers to a generally minor injury to any muscle in your body.
This could be a twist, pull, or tear of a muscle and, sometimes, tendons. Muscle strains can be severe. If not treated properly, they can lead to loss of mobility in that muscle area. In the most extreme cases of muscle strain, the muscle can completely rupture, requiring surgery.
Muscle strains occur when your muscles are overloaded.
This overload could be due to high speeds, overuse, or weight. When you experience a muscle strain, there will be soreness or pain in the injured area. Depending on the severity, muscle strain could result in muscle weakness, stiffness, or tightness for some time.
Since we use a lot of different muscles for various athletic activities, there are numerous muscles to be strained. Within this common injury category, there are groups of muscles that are more likely to be injured across the board. These muscles include:
- Hip Flexor
- Quadriceps (Thigh)
How to Prevent Muscle Strain
Muscle strain is commonly a symptom of incorrect form or lack of stretching. When your muscles are fatigued or overworked, they are more likely to become injured or strained.
This is another reason why warm-ups and cool-downs are essential when exercising.
Here are a few key ways to prevent muscle strain when exercising:
- Have a daily stretching regime
- Always warm-up and cool-down
- Work on having better form
- Incorporate strength training into your workout routine
- Maintain proper nutrition
Beyond preparing your muscles for exercise through stretching, be on the lookout for incorrect forms or postures. This may be more prevalent when weight lifting, but should be watched when doing cardio as well.
Strength training may seem like a strange addition to the list as well. However, when certain parts of your body are weaker than others, it can put a strain on those muscles. Incorporating full-body strength training and training opposing muscles can help prevent specific muscles from doing too much work.
Nutrition can also play a vital role in any sports-related injury. When it comes to your muscles, think about it this way: they can only work as well as the fuel you give them. Giving your body the nutrients and fuel necessary for performance is also an essential part of injury prevention and muscle recovery.
One convenient way to boost your nutrition is to seek out liquid protein supplements and other supplemental nutrition.
Knee injuries seem to be much more common than shoulder injuries, but both are prevalent.
A study conducted over 10 years concluded that knee injuries made up almost 40% of sports-related injuries. Knee injuries cross boundaries into so many different activities that it is easy to understand how they are so common.
Since your knee has a rather complex structure and bears the brunt of your body weight, it is the most frequently injured joint. The knee injuries doctors see most often include:
- ACL tears
- Patellofemoral Syndrome (Runner’s Knee)
- Iliotibial Band Syndrome
- Tendonitis & Bursitis
Although there are other significant ligaments in your knee like your MCL, LCL, and PCL, the ACL tear is still the most common to see amongst athletes. Injuries as severe as a ligament tear are usually a result of improper landing, a blow or twist, or running too hard/too fast without warming up properly.
Shoulder injuries are still somewhat common amongst athletes, and they account for 20% of sports injuries. Although this is significantly less than knee injuries, it still makes up a large percentage of sports injuries as a whole.
When referring to shoulder injuries, we are referencing the shoulder joint and, more specifically, the rotator cuff.
Any activity that requires frequent movement of the shoulder joint is prone to a shoulder injury. These sports include baseball, softball, tennis, swimming, and volleyball. Anyone that is using their rotator cuff often, especially in a repetitive motion, is more likely to experience injuries such as:
- SLAP Tear (Superior Labrum Anterior and Posterior)
- Shoulder instability
- Shoulder impingement
While some of these injuries are the result of overuse, more often than not, a shoulder injury occurs due to a lack of strength, flexibility, or stabilization.
Knowing your limits and not pushing past your body’s performance boundaries can be challenging at times. However, knowing when to stop and rest is vital in avoiding injuries, especially in your shoulder.
Many adults that are just getting back into a sport or starting their workout routine fresh will also experience shoulder injuries because of a lack of strength and flexibility. It is important to remind yourself that if you are beginning an exercise regime off the couch that you have to take it slow. What you used to be able to do in the gym will take time to build back up.
Jumping in too strong and too fast can cause more harm than good in most cases.
How to Prevent Knee and Shoulder Injuries
As with most sports injury prevention, it is crucial to stretch the area and warm-up properly. Now, your knee and shoulder areas can sometimes be easy to overlook when you are stretching. Some stretches that target these areas include:
Although these stretches can be useful, be aware that doing specific stretches when you are already injured can potentially be damaging. Consult a physical therapist or athletic trainer when deciding the stretches best for your injury recovery and sports injury treatment.
Beyond that, strength training is a crucial component of these two areas.
It is easy to build up one muscle group more than another. On your shoulders, you should work to train all three heads of your deltoid muscles. For your knees, an important cross-training can be to strengthen your quadriceps.
Cross-training will be vital when preventing knee and shoulder injuries. Don’t just focus on those areas, though. When it comes to knee injuries, often, other parts of your leg need to be strong as well. Focus on strengthening your hips, feet, and ankles as well as your knees.
If you’re a runner, the surface you run on may influence injury as well. Shoes play into this, but if you run on a hard surface versus a softer, low impact surface, you could be more prone to injury.
A sprain can be defined as being a tear or stretch of a ligament causing pain or swelling, but not dislocation.
Your ligaments are the band of connective tissue that join one end of a bone to another.
Any joint on your body can be sprained, but the three most common areas to be sprained during physical activity include your ankles, knees, and wrists. And it will most often be a result of some sort of physical trauma - like a fall or blow to one area of your body.
When you experience a sprain, you will feel varying degrees of pain and tenderness. The severity of the sprain will determine the amount of pain and swelling or if the accident led to a complete tear. You may also notice bruising, joint looseness or instability, and an inability to move the joint.
How to Prevent Sprains
If you’ve injured your ankle before, then you know that you’ve weakened the area and may injure it again in the future. As ankle sprains are especially common, some studies suggest that at times, an ankle brace can be used for sports injury treatment.
However, chronic use of a brace can further weaken the area. So, it may be best to focus on strengthening the muscles surrounding the ankle to prevent future injury.
Strength training of muscles surrounding joints is usually a tactic used in physical therapy following an injury. However, these exercises can also be used to prevent an injury from occurring altogether. Similar to cross-training, these exercises will target muscles not used as often to build up their resistance and flexibility.
Another classic way to prevent an ankle or knee sprain is to be more cautious of where you step. This isn’t always possible, especially if you are playing a sport that involves fast reaction time and movements. Still, the more body-conscious we are with our foot placements and form, the better we can improve muscle memory and prevent missteps.
Tendonitis is a sports injury that can affect multiple areas of the body.
Typically, tendonitis is referring to a condition where the tissue connecting muscle to your bone becomes irritated and inflamed. Tendonitis most commonly occurs on your Achilles tendon, elbow, wrist, shoulder, and knee.
Some other common names for tendonitis include:
- Tennis Elbow
- Golfer’s Elbow
- Jumper’s Knee
- Swimmer’s Shoulder
- Pitcher’s Shoulder
As you can tell by the common names, tendonitis is prevalent across many athletic disciplines. To understand this injury, we must first look at the tendons. Our tendons are thick fibrous cords that attach our muscles to our bones.
When irritation begins, the pain will be just outside whatever joint is bothered.
Once they're experiencing full tendonitis, most athletes report a dull pain when the joint is in use. There is usually an ache or tenderness to the area at all times, along with some slight swelling.
Tendonitis can occur near any joint and is most often caused by overuse or incorrect form. To treat tendonitis, many physical therapists will look at athletes form to determine if there is a way to irritate that tendon less.
The good news is that most cases are easily healed with some rest.
How to Prevent Tendonitis
Prevention of tendonitis generally will come down to awareness. When you are exercising, you should try to give your body time to warm up and ease into the movements. Giving your muscles and tendons too much too fast can result in stress.
So, a proper warm-up is one way to prevent tendonitis.
Another great way to prevent tendonitis is to be aware of your technique and form when you are exercising.
If you are consistently landing on your knee or pitching a ball with incorrect form, it puts that much more strain on your tendons. Starting slow and learning the best way to perform an action will give your body the tools it needs to function well every time.
With that in mind, there is also the aspect of overuse. When you perform repetitive actions, it takes a toll on your body. Listen to your body and if there is irritation or pain, take a break.
Determine what that pain is before it increases. Although most cases are mild, if left unaddressed, it can cause your tendon to rupture, leading to surgery.
Shin splints are most commonly seen in athletes that are just starting a running regimen - or athletes that do intense workouts involving running. The term itself is often misused to explain any pain people feel in their lower leg after exercise. However, it is specifically the pain associated with the tibia or shin bone.
The pain of shin splints will run from the front outside part of your leg and may include your foot or ankle or the inner edge of your leg where the bone meets your calf muscle. This pain can be mild to debilitating, depending on the severity.
It will usually occur a few hours after exercise, or it may not show up until the next day.
Shin splints can occur in other situations and are not strictly an injury that happens when you start a new running program. Some people will struggle with shin splints because of their body mechanics. They may have fallen arches, overpronation, or supination that causes their foot to land in a way that causes shin splints.
How to Prevent Shin Splints
Overuse, lack of warm-up, and improper form are also common causes of shin splints. These are the primary causes that you should focus on when preventing shin splints.
If you are a new runner and want to prevent shin splints, you should take it slow. Even if you used to be able to run for miles, if you’ve taken some time off, your body won’t be prepared. Proper warm-up and cool-down activities (including stretching) will help as well.
Improper form is another aspect of running that is in our control.
If you are unsure if you run correctly or not, consider going to see a personal trainer or physical therapist that can watch you run. They will be able to determine the smallest differences in your gait that could lead to injury down the line.
Then, if you have shin splints, take a rest. It can be hard to take a few days off, especially if you’re just making gains, but it is necessary for healing.
With any injury, giving your body time to work its healing magic is part of the process.
Common Sports Injury Prevention and Avoidance
Although we already discussed a few ways to prevent specific injuries above, let’s dig a little bit deeper into overall prevention. We only talked about the most common injuries that can occur, but there are some things that you can do to help avoid all types of sports injuries.
Proper Nutrition and Hydration
If you are an athlete, you probably often think about your nutrition already. Interestingly enough, many sports-related injuries are a sign of nutritional imbalance.
One of the first things that needs to be mentioned in this section is drinking water.
Now when someone says to hydrate, we tend to think of sports drinks and electrolyte beverages. Still, pure, clean water should be prioritized over these other options. When our bodies are dehydrated, our muscles tend to cramp, and our joints become more susceptible to injury.
Beyond hydration, there are several different nutritional considerations:
- Vitamin C: It has long been known to us that vitamin C may help us fight off infections, but it can help us in muscle recovery as well. It does this by helping us synthesize collagen naturally in our bodies.
- Healthy Fats: These fats are the Omega 3 fatty acids. The primary benefit of sports injury prevention is that they may help reduce chronic inflammation.
- Bone Health: Foods with a high concentration of magnesium and ample exposure to vitamin D will help to support healthy bones. Bone health is essential in the prevention of fractures and arthritis.
- Zinc: Zinc is known for boosting our immune system functioning, but it can also help us heal tissues and wounds.
While targeting many of these vitamins and minerals is possible through supplementation, you can’t beat a whole foods diet. It is important to try and get as many nutrients straight from the source as we can.
In most cases, this makes them more bioavailable to our bodies for absorption.
Plus, eating a whole foods diet cuts back on our consumption of processed foods. Although processed foods can be enjoyed in moderation, if that is the base of your diet, it can lead to a wealth of health issues beyond sports injury.
Along with nutrition, there is the aspect of supplementation. We talked about a few supplement options above, but another amazing supplement for injury prevention is collagen.
Collagen can also be used to speed up recovery from injury.
Hydrolyzed collagen has been proven to increase the density of ligaments and bones. Both of these are essential functionally, especially when we exercise.
There are numerous liquid protein supplements on the market today, but we recommend you check out our Frog Fuel Power Protein. We designed it to help your body strengthen, repair, and recover. Frog Fuel focuses on collagen and muscle recovery while promoting healing and injury recovery.
So whether you need collagen for sports injury treatment or injury prevention, Frog Fuel Power can help.
When your body is stronger, you heal faster and won’t break down as quickly. Giving your body the tools it needs for self-repairing means less time between workouts and better recovery time overall. Proper recovery gives your body the necessary strength to ensure you don’t overstress ligaments, muscles, and bones.
Have a Workout Plan (and stick to it)
There are many instances when you’re just getting back into an activity or exercise where you overdo it. It is tempting to want to jump back into working out the way you used to.
But that can be dangerous.
One way to prevent this from happening is to come up with a workout plan and stick to it. If that means enlisting the help of an accountability buddy or even a personal trainer, so be it. Having a plan will give you structure and balance in the types of exercises you do. It will help to ensure that you integrate multiple muscle groups and cross-training.
Plus, it is easy to get into a rut at the gym. So, a workout plan gives you some structure but also forces you to get outside your comfort zone. Mix up the workouts that you do each week or day-to-day. Do yoga a few times a week, go for a jog, only lift weights every other day, and swim on weekends.
Whatever the plan you choose, find activities that excite you and that you can alternate between. This further enforces the idea of working with different parts of your body and targeting multiple muscle groups.
ALWAYS Warm-Up and Cool Down
When your muscles aren’t ready for an action or activity, they are more likely to be injured.
So, how much stretching should you be doing? How long should your warm-up be compared to your workout? These will differ for everyone and each activity that you do, but there are some basic guidelines to follow to help you structure your stretching, warm-ups, and cool-downs for each workout.
On average, a warm-up should last between 5-10 minutes.
You want to incorporate cardio along with some range of motion movements to get the blood moving throughout your body. The reason a warm-up is typically shorter is to give your body time to adapt to the movements without creating muscle fatigue.
In your warm-up, you want to target movements that are often used in the activities you’ll be doing. You’ll start at a slow pace and then work your way up to a higher intensity to increase your heart rate.
Your cool-down should also be a focus during exercise. This is especially important during high intensity and cardio workouts. Cool-downs give your body time to get back down to the heart rate and breathing you had pre-exercise. Plus, your blood has a chance to recirculate throughout your body, preventing dizziness and fainting.
Most cool-downs will last around 10 minutes but can be longer, if necessary.
Try to incorporate at least 3-5 minutes of lower intensity exercise to lower your heart rate. Then, focus on stretching for at least 5 minutes.
Stretching doesn’t reduce all injuries, but it could prevent some. So integrating stretching into your routine is helpful. This could be a daily stretching activity you do at home when you wake up or during your cool down.
Try to stretch problem areas, but don’t only focus on those. Finding a routine that incorporates many different stretches will keep your body loose and flexible.
Focus on Technique and Form
Whether you’re a runner or a weight lifter, proper technique can prevent a multitude of injuries. If you’re new to an activity, try to find a mentor or a trainer to work with until you have the movements down.
There are many instances where improper technique caused an injury for an athlete. However, there are a few other things you can do to improve your form as well:
- Get a coach or trainer to help you with alignment or running gait
- Get custom fitting shoes
- Attend workout classes
It will come down to the little things here. Having an outside view of your form can be critical. You can have an instructor or coach correct the tiniest aspect of your pedaling, running, or lifting, and it could not only make the action easier, but it can prevent injury as well.
Allow Yourself Time to Heal and Rest
While we may be well accustomed to resting in between sets or take a day off from exercise each week, we still need to focus on rest. If you begin to have issues or pain when doing something, listen to your body.
Take some time to rest and relax that muscle group before a small ache turns into an injury.
You also need to sleep. Although we want to make sure we get in a workout that day, if we aren’t properly rested, we could get hurt. Not only will our bodies be trying harder than usual to keep up, but we aren’t as attentive either. It will take longer for injury recovery than it will for you to get a good night's sleep.
The moral of the story here is that when given time, your body does amazing things! Allow yourself a break now and then, and give your muscles room for recovery.
Invest in Your Health and Prevent Common Sports Injuries
Unfortunately, sometimes an injury isn’t preventable. But there are things you can do to decrease the chances of some of them - or make them less severe.
We covered the most common injuries in this article, but there are so many other possibilities. Don’t let these common sports injuries become a fact of life because you exercise or are an athlete. There are things that you can do in your daily life to prevent them.
If you’ve been injured before, give yourself time to heal, understand the injury, and learn how to prevent it again. Focus on things like your form, nutrition, and a workout routine that incorporates all muscle groups, and you are well on your way to injury avoidance.And, to learn more about how our Frog Fuel liquid collagen could help with muscle recovery, check out our post on collagen and injury prevention.