Signs of a Sprained Ankle and Other Common Sports Injuries

Dvora Kluwgant, MD
Dvora Kluwgant, MD16 Apr 2022

Getting involved in sports is a great way to take care of both your physical and mental health - but injuries can stop you in your tracks. The seven most common sporting injuries include ankle sprain, groin pull, hamstring strain, shin splints, ACL tears, patellofemoral pain syndrome, and tennis elbow. Preventing these injuries is easy if you take the proper steps, including wearing appropriate footwear, being properly conditioned, and taking on new exercise programs slowly.

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The 7 Most Common Sports Injuries 

Sports injuries are common, and can cause major disruption to an athlete’s goals and training plan. For people trying to stay healthy, sports injuries can seriously impact their physical and mental health. The most common injuries are listed below, as well as the sports they are usually associated with, what causes these injuries, and how they are diagnosed and treated. 

Source: Samuel Koo, MD, MPH

1. Ankle Sprain

The most common sports injury is a sprained ankle. A sprained ankle occurs when someone twists, rolls, or turns their ankle the wrong way, tearing or stretching the bands (ligaments) that help hold the ankle bones together. Under normal circumstances, the ligaments can stretch to a certain degree, but an ankle sprain occurs when they are pulled too far. The most common type of ankle sprain occurs on the outside of the ankle. Common sports associated with ankle sprains include basketball, tennis, football, soccer, and trail running. 

Symptoms of a sprained ankle will include:

  • Pain, especially when bearing weight on the affected ankle
  • Swelling of the ankle
  • Bruising
  • Instability of the area
  • A popping sensation at the time of the injury.

Ankle sprains are not serious in the long term, but they can lead to complications. An ankle sprain can lead to chronic joint pain or instability or arthritis in the ankle joint if left untreated. Imaging such as an X-ray or MRI  is usually unnecessary to diagnose an ankle sprain, but your doctor may recommend it if they are worried that the injury is severe. 

To treat an ankle sprain, you’ll want to use a classic formula called RICE:

  1. Rest: Avoid doing activities that cause further injury or pain
  2. Ice: Use an ice pack for 15-20 minutes every 2-3 hours.
  3. Compression: Compress the ankle with an elastic bandage to prevent swelling.
  4. Elevation: Elevate your ankle, especially at night.

Remember that the above is just advice; if you feel that the injury is not improving, please consult with a physician such as a family medicine practitioner to get personalized treatment.

2. Groin Pull

A groin pull, also known as groin strain, is another common sports injury. Similar to an ankle sprain, it is caused by overstretching, but in this case, it occurs in the groin area muscles. Groin pull is a common injury for people who do a lot of running and jumping, such as those who play soccer, football, or hockey.

Some of the symptoms of a pulled groin include:

  • Pain in the groin or inside of the thigh
  • Pain with bringing the legs together
  • Pain when raising the knee
  • A popping sensation at the time of injury

Much like an ankle sprain, groin pull may or may not require imaging to be diagnosed. While the RICE treatment method will not work here given the location of the injury, some elements, such as icing and resting the injury, should still be used to treat groin pull. 

3. Hamstring Strain

The hamstrings are the group of large muscles on the back of the thigh that work to allow you to bend your knee. When one or more of these muscles gets overloaded, hamstring strain occurs. Hamstring strains are common in runners and skaters and football, soccer, and basketball players. 

The symptoms of hamstring strain typically include:

  • Sudden and severe pain during exercise
  • Pain in the back of the thigh and buttock  while walking, straightening the leg, or bending over
  • Bruising
  • A sudden popping sensation at the time of the injury

Hamstring strain can be diagnosed by your doctor doing a physical examination. It is treated with the RICE method, as well as with stretching and strengthening exercises.

4. Shin Splints

Shin splints occur when there is pain in the tibia - the prominent bone at the front of your lower leg. In the medical community, shin splints are known as “tibial stress syndrome.” This condition occurs when an individual intensifies their training routine, which overworks the muscles, tendons (the fibers that connect muscle and bone), and bones. It is commonly seen in runners, dancers, and new military recruits. 

The symptoms of shin splints include:

  • Pain, tenderness, or soreness at the front of the lower leg
  • Pain that initially stops with stopping exercise but eventually occurs at rest
  • Mild leg swelling

Shin splints often occur in people with flat feet or high arches, so if this applies to you, you may need to get a particular pair of shoes when undertaking a new exercise routine. The condition is diagnosed based on the symptoms and is treated with rest and ice until the symptoms stop.

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5. ACL Tear 

ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) tears are a common but serious sports injury. The ACL is a band of tissue that connects the thigh bone (femur) to the shinbone (tibia). The ACL is commonly injured when someone has a sudden stop or change in direction while in motion (for example, when a football player gets tackled while running). 

Symptoms of an ACL tear include:

  • A popping sensation or sound at the time of injury
  • Severe pain
  • Swelling, which can be rapid
  • Loss of movement
  • Instability

The diagnosis of an ACL tear can be made with just a physical exam - or your doctor may need to order an MRI, ultrasound, or X-ray. Treating an ACL tear involves the RICE method, as well as rehabilitation. In some cases, surgery will be necessary, especially if the injury is causing knee instability daily.

6. Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome

Patellofemoral pain syndrome, more commonly known as “runner’s knee,” occurs in people who do sports that involve running and jumping. It is not understood what the exact cause of patellofemoral pain syndrome is. Still, this type of injury is more common in people after overuse, injury, or surgery (especially on the ACL). 

Symptoms of patellofemoral pain syndrome include:

  • Pain with walking up or downstairs
  • Pain with kneeling
  • Pain when sitting with bent knees for a prolonged period-of-time

Like many injuries on this list, patellofemoral pain syndrome is diagnosed by physical examination. Treatment is done by resting the knee, using supportive braces, and icing or taping the knee. 

7. Tennis Elbow

While the rest of the injuries on this list involve the legs, tennis elbow affects the arms. This type of injury occurs with overuse and is caused by the tendons on the forearm rubbing against the bones of the elbow joint. Even though it is called tennis elbow, this injury can occur in many people who repetitively use their arms, for example, butchers, painters, and other individuals whose jobs involve physical labor. 

Symptoms of tennis elbow include:

  • Pain in the outside of the elbow to the forearm
  • Weakness in this area

Physical examination is usually enough to diagnose tennis elbow, but imaging may also be needed. Treatment involves physical therapy, injections of plasma or Botox, a TENEX procedure, or other surgeries, if necessary.

Common Sports Injuries Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Sports injuries are prevalent and can hinder your fitness goals. To help you understand this topic more fully, we’ve compiled a list of the most common questions regarding sports injuries to understand this critical issue better.

How do I know if I have a broken bone?

It can be difficult to know whether your injury is a sprain or strain - or something more severe like a broken bone. Signs that point to the injury being a broken bone include:

  • Inability to apply any pressure to the affected area
  • Deep bruising’
  • Significant swelling
  • Deformity of the bone

If you suspect that your bone is broken, seek care from a medical professional. You will likely need an X-ray, and may need orthopedic procedures to help heal your broken bone.

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What should I know about concussions? 

Concussions occur when someone takes a blow to the head, resulting in an injury to the brain. They can be simply explained as a “bruising” of the brain, which can cause mental and physical symptoms such as an inability to think clearly, lack of concentration, headache, nausea and vomiting, balance problems, and other issues. If you experience head trauma, see a physician to ensure that you are not seriously injured. If you have a concussion, take the appropriate amount of time to heal since it is known that allowing complete healing to occur can prevent long-term issues caused by concussions.

How much is an MRI without insurance?

If you are injured and require an MRI, this may be pretty costly. The average price of an MRI is between $375 to $2,850, depending on location, the area of the body being imaged, and the facility at which you do the MRI. While Mira does not cover MRIs, if you are told you need an MRI, our team will help you find an MRI provider in your area and compare prices to find you the best possible rate. 

How long will my sports injury take to heal? 

Each injury discussed in this article is slightly different and will take different amounts of time to heal. For many of these injuries, you can expect to take 6 to 12 weeks before you are fully recovered. The most prolonged injury on this list is the ACL tear, which can take up to 6 or more months before it is healed. 

How can I prevent future injury?

Many sports injuries can be prevented by ensuring that you have warmed up appropriately and are adequately conditioned for the exercises you will perform. Taking on too much too fast is likely to lead to injury and should be avoided. When taking on a new form of exercise, take care to use proper technique, and get advice from a professional to ensure that you are not exercising in a way that will lead to strain or injury. Another way to prevent injury is to wear shoes that are the correct size and appropriate for the type of exercise. If you’re currently recovering from an injury, take the time to recover fully to avoid worsening the already existing injury. 

Bottom Line

Sports injuries are common and can impact your ability to stick to a healthy routine. It’s important to remember that there are ways to decrease your risk of a sports injury; being properly conditioned, wearing the proper footwear, and making sure you seek professional advice when taking on a new exercise regimen. If you get injured, speak to your doctor and let yourself heal before taking on another intense exercise schedule. 

Mira may be right for you if you’re looking to improve your health at a low cost. With plans for just $45 per month, Mira gives you access to urgent care, lab testing, preventative care, and discounted gym membership and prescriptions. Try Mira today and start living a healthier life!

Dvora Kluwgant, MD

Dvora is a recent medical graduate and current MPH student who is passionate about women’s health and health equity. She hopes to specialize in Obstetrics and Gynecology and is excited to join the Mira team in empowering people through healthcare. In her spare time she enjoys exercise, reading and spending time with her family and her dog, Dash.