About Sports Injuries: Causes

Sports injuries are most commonly caused by poor training methods, structural abnormalities, and weakness in muscles, tendons, and ligaments. The most common cause of injury is poor training - for example, not giving muscles enough time to recover after a workout (they need 48 hours) and not stopping when pain develops.

Everyone's bone architecture is a little different, but almost all of us have one or two weak points where the arrangement of bone and muscle leaves us prone to injury. In injuries to the ankles, legs, knees and hips, for instance, the most common predisposing factors are

  • uneven leg length
  • excessive pronation (flat feet)
  • cavus foot (over-high arches)

Pronation is the inward rolling of the foot after the heel strikes the ground, before the weight is shifted forward to the ball of the foot and then the toes. By rolling inwards, the foot spreads the shock of impact with the ground. If it rolls too easily, however, it can place uneven stress on muscles and ligaments higher in the leg.

While an overly flexible ankle can cause excessive pronation, a too-rigid ankle will cause the effects of cavus foot. Although the arch of the foot itself may be normal, it appears very high because the foot doesn't roll inwards when weight is placed on it. Such feet are poor shock absorbers and increase the risk of fractures higher in the legs.

Obviously, uneven leg length is going to make for awkward running and increase the chance of injury, but many people with equal-length legs suffer the same effects by running on tilted tracks or along the side of a road that rises from the sides to the centre. The hip of the leg that strikes the higher surface will inevitably suffer more strain.

Other conditions that make sports injuries more common include:

  • lumbar lordosis - forward curve in the lower spine
  • forward tilted pelvis
  • patella alta - a kneecap that's higher than usual
  • high Q angle - kneecap displaced to one side

Having some muscles that are very strong and others that aren't can be dangerous. If your quadriceps (front thigh muscles) are very strong, it can increase the danger of a stretched or torn hamstring (rear thigh muscle).

Naturally, lordosis and other spinal conditions are relevant to risk of upper, not lower body injuries. Such injuries are likeliest in sports like football and weightlifting.

Overall, the sport most likely to cause chronic injuries (rather than acute problems like broken bones) is probably long-distance road running. The surface is hard and sometimes uneven, and the movements are very repetitive. In addition, there are usually both up- and downhill elements, and these dramatically increase the stress on tendons and muscles in the lower leg. All running injuries are more likely if you wear the wrong shoes or sneakers. You should look for footwear that doesn't allow side-to-side movement of the heel.

Another sport that causes a lot of injury is tennis. The need to grasp the racquet firmly and the shock of impact with the ball can cause various injuries to the tendons of the wrist and elbow, such as forehand tennis elbow and backhand tennis elbow, both of which tend to involve the wrist just as much as the elbow. In addition, the human arm really isn't designed to perform strenuous activity above the head, and tennis is a leading cause of rotator cuff (shoulder joint) tendinitis. This is potentially one of the most serious sports injuries. If you continue to play with a sore shoulder, you can inflict damage that may require surgery.

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