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Bone, Muscle, and Joint Problems

Sports Injuries

Prevention - Home Treatment - When to Call a Health Professional

Injuries are common among physically active people. Muscle aches and pains are likely to develop when you start a new activity (or resume an activity after taking a break from it), because the muscles used for the activity need time to build strength and endurance. Most sports injuries are caused by either accidents or overuse. Overuse injuries can be avoided if you train properly for activities and use appropriate equipment.


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  • Warm up before exercising. Cold, stiff muscles and ligaments are more prone to injury. Cool down and stretch after activities. See Warm Up and Cool Down.

  • Increase the intensity and duration of activities gradually. As your fitness level improves, you will be able to do increasingly strenuous exercise without injury.

  • Use proper sports techniques and equipment. For example, wear supportive, well-cushioned shoes for running, aerobics, and walking; use a 2-handed tennis backhand stroke; wear protective pads for in-line skating. Make sure that your bicycle's seat and handlebars are adjusted properly for your body.

  • Alternate hard workouts with easier ones to let your body rest. For example, if you run, alternate long or hard runs with shorter or easier ones. If you lift weights, don't work the same muscles 2 days in a row.

  • Cross-train (do several activities regularly) to rest your muscles. Alternate days of walking with biking, running, or swimming.

  • Don't ignore aches and pains. When you feel the first twinge of pain, rest or reduce your activity for a few days. Apply ice and other Home Treatment, and you may avoid more serious problems.

Home Treatment

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The biggest Home Treatment challenge for most people with sports injuries is to get enough rest to allow healing without losing overall conditioning.

  • Keep the rest of your body fit by cross-training with activities that don't stress the injured area: swimming or biking for sore ankles or feet; walking or biking for sore shoulders or elbows. Don't return to the activity that caused the injury too quickly. Cross-training can help you maintain your fitness level.

  • Resume your regular activity gradually. Start with a slow, easy pace, less weight (if you're lifting weights), fewer repetitions, or a shorter duration of activity, and increase only if you have no pain.

  • Break your sport down into components. If you can throw a ball a short distance without pain, try increasing the distance. If you can walk comfortably, try jogging. If you can jog without pain, try running.

When to Call a Health Professional

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Information on specific injuries can be found on the following pages:

  • Bursitis and Tendinitis, See Bursitis and Tendinitis.

  • Tennis or golfer's elbow, See Tennis elbow.

  • Achilles tendinitis and plantar fasciitis, See Plantar Fasciitis.

  • Strains, Sprains, Fractures, and Dislocations, See Strains, Sprains, Fractures, and Dislocations.

    Ice and Cold Packs

    Ice can relieve pain, swelling, and inflammation from injuries and other conditions such as arthritis. Apply ice consistently as long as you have symptoms. Use either a commercial cold pack or one of the following:

    • Ice towel: Wet a towel with cold water and squeeze it until it is just damp. Fold the towel, place it in a plastic bag, and freeze it for 15 minutes. Remove the towel from the bag and place it on the affected area.

    • Ice pack: Put about 1 pound of ice in a plastic bag. Add water to barely cover the ice. Squeeze the air out of the bag and seal it. Wrap the bag in a wet towel and apply to the affected area.

    • Homemade cold pack: See instructions on See Cold Pack.

    Ice the area at least 3 times a day. For the first 72 hours, ice for 10 minutes once an hour. After that, a good pattern is to ice for 15 to 20 minutes 3 times a day: in the morning, in the late afternoon after work or school, and about half an hour before bedtime. Also ice after any prolonged activity or vigorous exercise.

    Always keep a damp cloth between your skin and the cold pack, and press firmly against all the curves of the affected area. Do not apply ice for longer than 15 to 20 minutes at a time, and do not fall asleep with the ice on your skin.

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