Sports injuries result from acute trauma or repetitive stress associated with athletic activities. Sports injuries can affect bones or soft tissue (ligaments, muscles, tendons).

Professional dancers are increasingly recognized as performing athletes and many of the treatments and preventive measures utilized in sports medicine are now applied to dance-related injuries.

It is also important to remember that many types of injuries that affect athletes may also occur in workers in certain occupations; for example, many people in the building trades develop tennis elbow or golfer’s elbow. The principles of sports medicine can be applied in the treatment of most common musculoskeletal injuries.

Types of Sports Injuries

About 95% of sports injuries are minor soft tissue traumas. The most common sports injury is a bruise (contusion). It is caused when blood collects at the site of an injury and discolors the skin.

Sprains account for one-third of all sports injuries. A sprain is a partial or complete tear of a ligament, a strong band of tissue that connects bones to one another and stabilizes joints.

A strain is a partial or complete tear of:

  • muscle (tissue composed of cells that enable the body to move)
  • tendon (strong connective tissue that links muscles to bones)

Inflammation of a tendon (tendinitis) and inflammation of one of the fluid-filled sacs that allow tendons to move easily over bones (bursitis) usually result from minor stresses that repeatedly aggravate the same part of the body. These conditions often occur at the same time.

Fractures account for 5-6% of all sports injuries. The bones of the arms and legs are most apt to be broken. Sports activities rarely involve fractures of the spine or skull. The bones of the legs and feet are most susceptible to stress fractures, which occur when muscle strains or contractions make bones bend. Stress fractures are especially common in ballet dancers, long-distance runners, and in people whose bones are thin.

Shin splints are characterized by soreness and slight swelling of the front, inside, and back of the lower leg, and by sharp pain that develops while exercising and gradually intensifies. Shin splints are caused by overuse or by stress fractures that result from the repeated foot pounding associated with activities such as aerobics, long-distance running, basketball, and volleyball.

A compartment syndrome is a potentially debilitating condition in which the muscles of the lower leg grow too large to be contained within membranes that enclose them. This condition is characterized by numbness and tingling. Untreated compartment syndrome can result in long-term loss of function.