Is there a test for sports injuries?

To see which type of sports injury you have, your doctor will likely:

  • Ask about the injury and how it happened.
  • Ask about any activities you do and if you recently changed the intensity level of these activities.
  • Examine the injured area.
  • Order imaging tests such as x-ray or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans.

How are sports injuries treated?

You should not try to “work through” the pain of an injury, regardless of whether it is an acute or chronic injury. When you have pain from a particular movement or activity, you should stop right away.

The goals of treatment for a sports injury are recovery of the injured part of the body and prevention of future injuries.

Treatment for Serious Injuries

You should see a health care provider if you have symptoms of a serious injury. These symptoms include:

  • Severe pain, swelling, or bruising.
  • Pain and swelling that do not go away after a few days.
  • Being unable to put any weight on the area.
  • Seeing that a joint or bone is out of place.

Treatment for serious injuries may include:

  • Limiting movement of the injured area. This reduces pain, swelling, and muscle spasms and helps the healing process begin. Following are some devices used for this purpose:
    • Slings for the upper body, including the arms and shoulders.
    • Splints, braces, and casts to support and protect injured bones and tissue.
  • Surgery. Surgery is needed in some cases to repair torn connective tissues or to realign fractured bones.

Treatment of Minor Injuries

If you do not have any symptoms of a serious injury, it is probably safe to treat the injury at home first. If pain or other symptoms do not go away or get worse, you should check with a health care provider. Use the R-I-C-E method to relieve pain and swelling and to speed healing:

  • Rest. Limit activities that use the injured area for at least a day or two. Try to avoid putting weight on or using the injured body part.
  • Ice. Apply a cold pack or ice bag wrapped in a towel to the injured area for 20 minutes at a time, four to eight times a day. (Note: Do not use heat right after an injury because it can increase internal bleeding or swelling. You can use heat later to ease muscle tension and help your muscles relax.)
  • Compression. Keeping pressure on the injured area may help reduce swelling. An elastic bandage works well, but do not wrap it too tightly.
  • Elevation. If possible, keep the injured ankle, knee, elbow, or wrist elevated up on a pillow, above the level of the heart, to help decrease swelling.

Other treatments may include anti-inflammatory and, rarely, pain medications, which can help treat pain and swelling.

Rehabilitation

After your injury has healed, you may need to complete a rehabilitation program before returning to the activity that caused the injury. Most rehabilitation plans include exercises that you do at home, in addition to those you do in a physical therapist’s office. The therapist may also treat the injured area with cold, heat, ultrasound, or other kinds of therapy.

Most sports injuries respond well to treatment and rehabilitation, and you will be able to return to normal activities. But if you still feel pain, seek help. Your primary health care provider can manage most injury-related problems and he or she may refer you to a specialist for further treatment.

Who treats sports injuries?

At first, sports injuries are usually treated by:

  • Emergency physicians, who care for patients in emergency rooms (for serious injuries).
  • Primary health care providers, including family doctors, internists, and pediatricians, who treat problems as they arise and coordinate care between the different specialized health care providers (for non-serious injuries).

You may also see:

  • Orthopaedic surgeons, doctors who specialize in diagnosing and treating injuries to bones, joints, ligaments, tendons, muscles, and nerves.
  • Pain management specialists, physicians who are trained in the evaluation and treatment of pain.
  • Physiatrists, doctors who specialize in nonsurgical management of musculoskeletal conditions and can develop a plan of care, including rehabilitation.
  • Physical therapists who teach ways to build muscle strength, recover from broken bones, and prevent broken bones.
  • Sports medicine specialists, specialists who work with athletes and others with musculoskeletal injuries.

Living with sports injuries

Once an injury heals, it is important to continue some type of regular exercise.

  • To avoid injury, choose an activity that matches your fitness level and slowly increase the intensity. Use the proper equipment and technique.
  • Learn how to spot injuries early on, and how to treat minor ones at home.
  • Seek medical care when you need it.

By following these steps, you can gain the health benefits of regular exercise while lowering the chance of a serious injury.