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Top 5 Most Common Sport Injuries

When we play sports, we don’t plan to get hurt. Yet there are common athletic injuries doctors see time and again—with knees getting the brunt of athletic exertion.

“In the top five athletic injuries, the knee is number one,” says Justin Ernat, MD, a sports medicine surgeon at University of Utah Health. “More than 50% of sports injuries are to the knee.”

The full top five athletic injuries include:

  1. Knee
  2. Shoulder
  3. Foot & Ankle
  4. Hip
  5. Head

Seasonal Injuries

Common sports injuries can vary by the season. “In the summer, we expect mountain biking injuries to the shoulder with broken collar bones, torn rotator cuffs, and shoulder dislocations," Ernat says. “Shoulder injuries are still common in the winter, but they are dwarfed by the number of knee injuries that can happen with skiing and snowboarding.”

Common seasonal sports injuries Ernat sees most are:

  1. Muscle and tendon strains
  2. Ligament sprains
  3. Bone fractures
  4. Tendinopathies
  5. Concussions

Football Injuries

All the equipment and gear that comes with football can cause issues such as heat exhaustion. “Battling it requires frequent breaks and maximizing opportunities for hydration—especially when it’s hot outside,” Ernat says.

Other likely football injuries include:

  • Knee sprain
  • Torn ACL or Meniscus
  • Collarbone or clavicle fractures
  • Shoulder dislocations
  • Concussion

Basketball Injuries

An ankle sprain is the most common basketball injury. Here are a few others:

  • Torn ACL or Meniscus
  • Stress fractures (lower body/feet)
  • Tendonitis
  • Concussion

Soccer Injuries

Soccer is also the most common sport that creates ACL injuries. "Any sort of knee strain or sprain is going to be common in a soccer player,” Ernat says. “But especially in higher levels, I see things like concussions where players aren't protected while they're lobbing for a header or a ball and collide with other players.”

Common injuries include:

  • ACL tear
  • Meniscus tear
  • Knee sprain 
  • Knee strain

Baseball Injuries

Pitcher injuries are the most common, with elbow and shoulder injuries. “By high school or college, they're throwing so much with one arm, their shoulders have different ranges of motion, which makes them susceptible to injury," Ernat says. "Pitchers can also lose torque when the ligament inside the elbow stretches out, which requires structured therapy or surgery to tighten.”

Common injuries include:

  • Elbow MCL sprain
  • Shoulder strain
  • Torn rotator cuff
  • Torn labrum

Kids can suffer debilitating and painful bone and cartilage injuries around their shoulder and elbow. One example is little league shoulder, where the growth plate in the shoulder becomes chronically irritated.

With kids, one thing to watch out for is the growth plates—the tissue near the ends of long bones. Injury there can affect how a bone matures. “Kids’ ligaments are stouter than their growth plates, which can suffer stress fractures from trauma or overuse,” Ernat says.

Prevention Year Round

Preventing common sport injuries is preparation and maintenance. “Part of that is adequate rest between games and practice," Ernat says. "But most important is maintaining a healthy body, with muscular strengthening and regular stretching.”

Injury prevention also changes with age. At ages 50, 60, and 70 years, wear and tear of the joints and swelling in response to a suddenly increased activity level is common. Ernat recommends these age groups to ease into new activities and turn to low impact sports.

"Regardless of age or sport, staying active is key," he says. “And that’s what I enjoy helping people do.”