Common Sports Injuries and Their Treatment

What to do if you get a shoulder dislocation, anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tear or ankle sprain.

Follow these tips by experts from the National University Hospital (NUH). 

Photo: Warren Goldswain/

No matter how careful you are, accidents still happen. Sudden impacts or movement (such as when someone runs into you or when you twist your knee to stop a fall) can cause injuries such as a shoulder dislocation, ACL tear or ankle sprain. According to Dr Lingaraj Krishna, head of the NUH Sports Centre, "these typically occur when your ligaments – the strong fibrous tissues found in your joints – are suddenly extended beyond their normal limits.” Here are some common traumatic sports injuries, and what you can do if they happen to you.

Ankle sprain

Cause: Sprains are common in sports involving a lot of twisting movements, such as football or netball. “Most likely, your foot will twist inwards and the lateral collateral ligaments around the ankle joint tears or overstretches,” explains Dr Lingaraj. Thankfully, 80 per cent of ankle sprains don’t require surgery. “Surgery is usually for those who have problems with stability despite physiotherapy,” he says.
What to do: Apply the R.I.C.E. method immediately – Rest. Stop any activity causing pain. Ice. Apply a cold pack wrapped in a towel for 10-20 minutes at least three times daily. When swelling subsides, apply a heat pack. Compression. Wrap the ankle securely with tape or elastic bandages to help reduce swelling. Elevation. Prop up the ankle when sitting or lying down. Additionally, go for physiotherapy to improve balance and strengthen supporting muscles in the ankle. Sports acupuncture can help further. “It’s been shown to reduce pain and shorten recovery time by releasing natural substances such as endorphins,” says sports acupuncturist Professor Lee Tat Leang from NUH.

ACL tear

Cause: According to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, seven in 10 ACL injuries occur through non-contact sports. Instead, it’s commonly caused by “deceleration coupled with cutting, pivoting or sidestepping movements or awkward landings”. Women are also up to 10 times more prone to ACL tears than men.
What to do: Swelling within 15-30 minutes, a pop in the knee, severe pain and knees buckling when walking are all signs of ACL injury. See a doctor who can access it and order scans if need be. If there’s only a partial tear with no other injuries in the knee, physiotherapy might suffice. If reconstruction surgery is needed – where the torn ligament is replaced with tissue grafts – waiting three to four weeks after the injury for the swelling to subside and knee mobility to improve will offer better recovery, says Dr Lingaraj. “With a well-supervised, structured rehabilitation programme, you can usually return to sports nine to 12 months post-surgery.”

Shoulder dislocation

Cause: Playing contact sports puts you at higher risk. If an opponent bumps into you forcefully during a game, the impact may push the head of the shoulder joint forward out of the socket, causing a dislocation. This is the most common type of joint dislocation because our shoulders are very mobile, allowing the arms to move freely.
What to do: Head to the emergency department as soon as possible where a doctor can properly manipulate your shoulder back into place. The longer the joint stays dislocated, the harder it will be to put back. If it is your first shoulder dislocation, physiotherapy may suffice. “But if it happens repeatedly, surgery may be necessary to stabilise the joint,” says Dr Lingaraj.

Also read:

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