Recognising and classifying injuries



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Recognising and classifying injuries

Sports injuries may be classified in relation to the type of tissues injured, e.g. soft tissues (muscle, skin) or hard tissues (bone). More often, sports injuries are classified in relation to their cause. The main types are primary, secondary, direct, indirect and chronic injury.


Primary injury


Occurs directly as a result of a sporting activity.

Secondary injury


  • Occurs as a result of an earlier injury, which may have been treated inadequately, if at all.

  • May occur when an athlete returns to training and/or competition before a previous injury has healed fully.

Direct injury


  • Occurs as a result of an outside cause such as an external blow or extreme force applied to the body.

  • Frequently the most immediate and severe type of injury.

  • More than one type of tissue can be damaged in the one incident. For example, a dislocation (e.g. shoulder) can involve muscles, tendons, ligaments and nerves; a severe, sudden impact with the ground in a fall, with another athlete, or with sports equipment, can produce internal bleeding, with or without fractures.

  • Be aware that protective gear has limitations: shoulder pads will protect a rugby player from bruising but not from fractures or dislocations; knee pads will not reduce the incidence of internal injury to the knee tissues. Athletes must be made aware of such limits, and not be lulled into a false sense of security.

  • SHOCK must be considered seriously, and must be treated in such cases.

Indirect injury


  • Usually occurs as a result of the individual’s over-estimation of their body’s capabilities.

  • Many of these types of injuries may be prevented by attending to fitness (overall, pre-season, in-season, off-season), preparation (suitable clothing and equipment, warm up, stretching, warm down) and technique (use of correct techniques).

Chronic injury


  • Occurs as a result of overuse.

  • May be the result of inappropriate use of the body, which places excessive stress on particular tissues, e.g. bones, ligaments, and other soft tissues.

  • Poor training programmes cause the majority of chronic injuries.

  • May be caused by poor technique, which increases the load placed on some structures e.g. poor backhand technique in tennis may overload structures that stabilise the elbow joint.

  • Poor selection of equipment may exaggerate the stress placed on the body by poor technique e.g. a tennis racquet that is too heavy.

  • Generally arise when there is a sudden change in the frequency or intensity of an activity for which the tissue is unprepared e.g. a marathon runner increasing weekly training distance too quickly.

  • In children, may occur at the epiphysis plate i.e. that part of the bone where growth occurs. Symptoms: pain develops initially during, and then after exercise, and occasionally in bed at night. Common sites: upper end of the tibia, back of the heel bone, spine and upper end of the femur.

  • Stresses are usually repetitive in nature and cause micro-damage to tissues, which under normal circumstances, are able to repair the damage naturally. If the stress continues and becomes excessive, the damage accumulates until it exceeds the body’s ability to repair itself naturally.









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