Sports Injuries: How to Protect Yourself

When discussing sports-related injuries, we typically think of professional or organized scholastic sports. However, many people in the United States get injured from basketball or football pick-up games, while others get injured cycling and running. The National Health and Statistics report, published in November 2016, found an estimated 8.6 million sports and recreational-related injuries annually in the United States. Read on to learn which sports cause the most injuries and how to prevent them.

Key takeaways:

Recreational sports have several purposes, including physical fitness, fun, and social interaction. In addition, recreational sports can be broken down into three catagories: contact, extreme, and non-contact.

Contact recreational sports

Contact recreational sports are usually in the high-injury ratio due to their aggressive nature.

American football (football)

Football is considered one of the most physical recreational sports; thus, many different injuries can be sustained. When playing football, a commonly injured area is the knee joint due to injuries of the following structures:

  • Cartilaginous medial or lateral menisci
  • An anterior cruciate ligament (ACL)
  • A posterior cruciate ligament (PCL)

Other injured joints include the shoulder, wrist, and hand. In addition, muscle strains can occur in any muscle but frequently occur in the low back. Traumatic head injuries (concussions) occur in organized football and pick-up games; it is one of the more serious football injuries.


Ankle injuries are common in basketball due to running, jumping, and the occasional awkward landing (like on another player’s foot). In addition, finger and hand injuries tend to occur more often in basketball, especially dislocated and jammed fingers.


Soccer is the most popular sport in the world and is gaining popularity in the United States. The most common soccer injuries are strains of the hamstring and groin. In addition, the knee, ankle, and Achilles tendon are frequently injured. Like American football, the most serious injury from soccer is a traumatic head injury (concussion).

Extreme sports

Fractured bones are prevalent in those who perform extreme sports like skateboarding and snowboarding, primarily due to the performers trying dangerous maneuvers; athletes in these sports often do so for the "adrenaline high."

Other types of extreme sports include:

  • Surfing, especially with large waves
  • Rock climbing
  • Wingsuit flying
  • Whitewater kayaking
  • Skiing
  • Skydiving
  • Base jumping (jumping off a fixed object and then using a parachute)

Non-contact recreational sports

These are not typically as dangerous as contact or extreme sports, but injuries occur.


Cycling is a trendy outdoor sport, but serious injuries occur from falling, including head injuries, skin scrapes, and broken bones. We see cycling falls more often with mountain biking due to the unpredictable terrain.

However, there are also indoor cycling injuries, such as lower extremity tendonitis and muscle strains.

Running and jogging

Running and jogging can lead to the following injuries:

  • Iliotibial band syndrome. Inflammation of the fibrous band on the outside of the leg causes pain.
  • Plantar fasciitis. Fascial tissue on the sole of the foot causes pain.
  • Stress fractures. Tiny cracks in the bones caused by repetitive force from overuse.
  • Runner’s knee. Also known as patellofemoral pain syndrome.
  • Shin splints. Microtears in the muscle and bone tissue surrounding the tibia (shin bone).


Some people prefer to use rowing machines or perform outdoor rowing to exercise; however, overuse can cause strains in the low back, knees, and ribs.


Compared to other non-contact sports, swimming is one of the least likely ways to become injured, given the low impact on the muscles, tendons, and bones from the water that has a cushioning effect. However, injuries can occur from overusing the muscles, especially the shoulder, neck, and back.

Eight ways to avoid injuries

So, the million-dollar question is how can you avoid injuries from recreational sports and activities? Well, we’ve got you covered with simple ways to prevent injury.

  1. Warm up. The warm up is especially important when jogging, running, or cycling. Start slowly and gradually increase the difficulty and speed.
  2. Stretch before and after the activity. This is often skipped by recreational athletes.
  3. Wear the proper gear. This is essential when choosing the right footwear. For example, if you're running, use running shoes; if you're playing tennis, use tennis shoes; and if hiking, you should wear specialized hiking boots. Besides proper footwear, using the right gear can significantly reduce the risk of injury.
  4. Proper technique. Every sport has an ideal technique that can help in avoiding injury.
  5. Hydration. Stay hydrated since dehydration can decrease optimum performance (physical and mental) and can lead to muscle cramps. During exercise, we lose fluid from our sweat, which needs replenishment.
  6. Pay attention to your body. If a muscle feels sore or painful, stop that activity and rest. If the pain persists, seek medical attention.
  7. Heat. After exercise, having a hot shower or bath, dipping in the jacuzzi, or applying a heat pack can be helpful to relax the worked muscles.
  8. Ice. Usually, ice usually works best after using heat and your skin temperature has returned to normal.

Different kinds of injuries result from different sports and recreational activities. However, they can be injury-free and quite enjoyable (with proper precautions).

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