Last updated on 1 February 2021
Whether you’re training to compete in the next tournament or engaging in a sport to stay healthy, here are 5 common sports injuries you might run into and the average time it takes to recover from each one.
This is a traumatic injury usually caused by accidents or running on uneven terrain. Sprains often happen when you ‘roll’ your foot, causing the ankle ligaments to stretch beyond its limit and tear.
Ligaments are the strong, stretchy bands that help stabilise your ankle. They hold the bones of your ankle together but allow for some movement. However, if there is too much movement in an abnormal posture, these ligaments can tear and result in a sprain.
Treating an ankle sprain
Average healing time: Most ankle sprains heal on their own between 6 – 12 weeks.
If injury is severe, you may need additional treatment including medications, medical devices, and physical therapy. for your ankle sprain. Generally, the treatment of a sprained ankle is aimed to reduce pain and swelling, promote healing of the ligament, and function of the ankle.
RICE: Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation
You can perform self-care for your ankle sprain using the RICE approach at the point of injury and for up to 3 days.
- Rest. Avoid activities that cause pain, swelling, or discomfort
- Ice. Use an ice pack immediately for 15 – 20 minutes and repeat every 2 – 3 hours.
- Compression. Compress the ankle with an elastic bandage until swelling stops. Begin wrapping at the end farthest from your heart.
- Elevation. Elevate your ankle to above the level of your heart, especially at night. This helps reduce swelling by draining excess fluid.
Surgery to repair torn ankle ligament
Surgery to repair torn ligament is usually only considered where there is a severe ligament tear or if the ankle remains unstable even after rehabilitation.
On occasion, an ankle sprain can also lead to simultaneous injuries in the joint like cartilage injury or bone chips, which may also need to be managed surgically.
Surgical options for ankle sprain include:
A small camera, called an arthroscope, is used to look inside your ankle joint. Miniature instruments are used to remove any loose fragments of bone or cartilage, or parts of the ligament that may be caught in the joint.
The torn ligament is repaired with stitches or sutures. In some cases, your doctor will reconstruct the damaged ligament by replacing it with a tissue graft from other ligaments and/or tendons found in the foot or around the ankle.
The hamstring can be overstretched by movements such as kicking the leg out sharply or sudden deceleration when running. Hamstring muscles are often ‘pulled’ when an athlete is overusing or overstretching the muscle.
During a hamstring pull, one or more of the hamstring muscles gets overloaded and overstretched. The muscles might even start to tear. You’re likely to pull a hamstring during activities that involve a lot of running and jumping, or suddenly stopping and starting.
Treating a hamstring pull
Average healing time: Hamstring injuries can take 6 weeks – 3 months. On occasion it may take 12 months to heal. The most common reason for such a long recovery period or re-injury is often due to inadequate physiotherapy and stretching, and returning to sports too early.
Mild to moderate hamstring pull usually heal on their own. To speed healing, you can do the following:
- Rest the leg by not putting any weight on it as much as you can. Crutches may help
- Ice your leg for 20 – 30 minutes every 3 – 4 hours to reduce pain and swelling
- Compress your leg with an elastic bandage to keep the swelling down
- Medications such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs help with pain and swelling
- Physical therapy for stretching and strengthening exercising
Surgery to treat hamstring pull
In severe cases where there are extensive injuries to the tendon or muscle, a surgery may be required.
Surgery is required in severe cases where the tendon is pulled completely away from the bone. This is done by first pulling the hamstring muscle back into place and removing any scar tissue. The tendon is then reattached to the bone using large stitches or staples.
Surgery may also be needed to repair a complete tear within the muscle. This is done using stitches.
The term describes pain felt along the inner edge of your shin bone. The pain concentrates in the lower leg between the knee and ankle. Your doctor may refer to the condition as a medial tibial stress syndrome (MTSS). It is a cumulative stress disorder on the bones, muscles, and joints of the lower legs that prevent your body from being able to naturally repair and restore itself.
Shin splints are very common, especially among runners. Runners might get them after ramping their workout intensity or changing the surface they run on. Sometimes, shin splints can be confused with a stress fracture in the bone.
Treating shin splints
Average healing time: The discomfort will usually resolve in a few days with rest and limited activity. However, this condition can persist if not recognised early and treated.
Identifying the root cause of this injury is important. Is the condition due to over-training, eg. too much running? Is it a problem with the surface on which you do your activity? Perhaps running on a softer surface like a running track may be beneficial. If you are a heel-striker when running and have a flexible flat-foot, an arch support may be required. On occasion, if there is a developing stress fracture, surgery may be required. Rarely, there may also be muscle tears which may require surgery.
The anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) is a ligament that links the femur (thigh bone) and tibia (shin bone), and is a core stabiliser of the knee. ACL injuries occur most commonly in sports that involve sudden stops, jumping or changes in direction, such as football, tennis and skiing.
A torn ACL usually does not heal without surgery. If you’re a young athlete who wants to get back in the game, you will most likely require surgery to safely return to the sport. On the other hand, the less active, older individual may still be able to return to a normal lifestyle without surgery.
Treating an ACL tear
Average healing time: Medical treatment for an ACL injury begins with several weeks of rehabilitation and your rate of recovery will depend on how bad the injury is.
Injuries or tears to the ACL are commonly classified as grades 1, 2, or 3:
- Grade 1: Mild damage/stretch to the ACL but still provides adequate stability to the knee joint.
- Grade 2: The ACL is stretched and partially torn.
- Grade 3: The ACL is torn completely in half and is no longer providing any stability to the knee joint.
Depending on the severity of your injury, treatment for an ACL tear may include the following:
- First aid such as icing your knee and wrapping an elastic bandage around your knee if your injury is minor
- Medications such as anti-inflammatory drugs to reduce pain and swelling
- Physical therapy a few days a week to strengthen the muscles around your knee and to regain a full range of motion
- Surgery to remove the damaged ACL and replace it with tissue for grade 3 or complete ACL tear
During the recovery period, a person may need to use crutches to keep weight off the knee or a knee brace to support and stabilise the knee. It can take up to 12 months before you can go back to your regular sports activities. Physical therapy is important throughout this recovery period.
Rehabilitation and physiotherapy
Whether you undergo surgery or not, rehabilitation plays a vital role in stabilising your condition and helping you return to a normal lifestyle. Rehabilitation will focus on reducing pain and swelling, restoring the knee’s full range of motions, and strengthening of muscles especially the hamstrings, quads and glutes.
If you have surgery, rehabilitation will focus on returning motion to the joint and surrounding muscles, followed by a strengthening programme to protect the new ligament. This gradually increases the stress across the ligament. The final phase of is aimed at a functional return tailored for the athlete's sport.
Doctors know the condition as lateral epicondylitis. The rest of us call it ‘tennis elbow’. It is a painful condition brought about by the overuse of arm, forearm and hand muscles, usually as a result of repetitive motions of the wrist and arm.
Treating a tennis elbow injury
Average healing time: Although the condition often gets better on its own, this injury can take between 3 – 12 months to fully heal. During this time, rest is extremely important in allowing the tendons and muscles heal. Targeted rehabilitation and stretches are critical for this process.
The aim of physical therapy is to improve the strength and flexibility of your forearm muscles so that you will not have a tennis elbow again. It will also improve blood flow that will help with healing of the swollen tendons.
Physical therapy is started once you no longer experience pain from your injury. Exercises include finger and wrist stretches, ball squeeze, forearm strengthening, and exercises with weights.
If your symptoms don’t improve within 12 months of non-operative treatment, you might be a candidate for surgery to remove damaged tissues. The surgery can be done in one of two ways:
Your surgeon makes a cut above the bone on the side of your elbow. Then, removal of the damaged piece of tendon is done and the healthy part is reattached to the bone. Further removal of a small piece of bone in your elbow may also be done to improve blood flow and aid faster healing. The opening is closed with stitches or staples.
A few tiny cuts are made in the skin over your elbow. Using very small instruments and a camera, your surgeon removes the damaged parts of the tendon. The opening is closed with stitches or staples.
Remember that any time you step out onto the field of play, there is always a possibility of injury. Repeated wear and tear on your body eventually adds up, leading to excessive stress on the muscles and joints that lead to injury. This makes it extremely useful to learn to distinguish good pain from the bad, which include dull pains and excessive fatigue. Struggling to do a few more reps may seem like a good idea today, but it could compromise your progress in the long run.
Article reviewed by Dr Michael Soon, orthopaedic surgeon at Mount Elizabeth Hospital
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