Participation in sports activities and exercise programs is increasing as people become more health conscious. Although commonly associated with health benefits, sports and exercise can also cause injuries. Individuals in all age groups benefit from regular exercise when it is performed properly. The benefits of exercise (e.g. prevention of coronary heart disease and osteoporosis, weight control, muscle tone, etc) outweigh the risk of injuries.

This article will focus on minor sports and exercise injuries. The types of sports-related injuries that can occur in individuals are varied. Sports-related injuries can be caused by trauma and overuse of specific parts of the body such as muscles or joints. Acute injuries such as ligament sprains and muscle strains are usually caused by sudden trauma and more likely to occur in contact sports. Overuse or chronic injuries are more subtle and are most commonly associated with sports that involve repetitive movements (e.g. tennis, golf, running). The acronym of the “terrible toos”too fast, too far and too frequent – is often used to describe the cause of overuse injuries. Some of the more common sports-related injuries such as strains and sprains, overuse injuries (e.g. tendinitis, bursitis, plantar fasciitis, shin splints and tennis elbow) will be briefly highlighted.


Bursitis is the inflammation of a bursa. Bursa are tiny, fluid-containing sac-like structures that are located wherever there might be friction, such as between bones and the muscles and tendons near joints. When they become inflamed, movement or pressure is painful. The most common areas where bursitis occurs are the elbow, knee and shoulder.


A sprain is an injury to a ligament caused by overstretching or twisting. In the ankle, a common area for sprains, it is the lateral ligaments of the joint that tear. Symptoms include pain, swelling and tenderness, with later bruising around the injury. Symptoms of sever sprains are difficult to differentiate from fractures and an X-ray may be needed to make a firm diagnosis.


A strain is an injury to a muscle and also referred to as a torn or pulled muscle. It is usually caused by over-stretching and is characterized by pain and swelling. Muscle strains vary in severity, from damage to the fibers of the muscle sheath to complete rupture of the muscle.

Plantar Fasciitis

A common condition causing heel pain, plantar fasciitis involves inflammation of the plantar fascia, the tough fibrous band of tissue that runs along the sole of the foot. Inflammation usually occurs following increased or repetitive activity such as jogging.

Shin Splints

Shin pain resulting from damage to the muscles along the skin is known as shin splints.

Stress Fractures

Tiny cracks in bones that often result from repeated excessive impact are stress fractures. Any bone can suffer a stress fracture but they usually happen in the feet, ankle and legs. An individual may not even notice when a stress fracture initially occurs. The pain decreases with rest and increases with activity. The pain increases over time and gets worse when pressure is applied.


Tendonitis is the inflammation of a tendon, a thick fibrous cord that attaches muscle to bone. Two common examples of tendonitis are Achilles tendonitis and tennis elbow. Achilles tendonitis is inflammation of the Achilles tendon (tendon which connects the heel to the calf muscle). Pain and tenderness occurs just above the heel. Tennis elbow, also known as lateral epicondylitis, is an inflammation of the tendons attached to the outside or lateral side of the elbow at the bony prominence of the arm bone. It commonly occurs in racquet sports and or any activity that requires repetitive, one-sided movement (such as tennis). The patient experiences pain and tenderness outside of the area at and below the elbow joint.

Non-Medical Therapy

The four essentials of early management of soft-tissue injuries can best be remembered by the acronym RICE: Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation. After 48 hours have passed and the initial swelling has subsided, the RICE regimen may be replaced by heat, massage, and/or rehabilitation with physical therapy if necessary.

Heat versus Cold Therapy

Should patients apply heat or cold therapy to a sports injury? As a general rule, the application of cold is the preferred immediate treatment (i.e. the first 24 – 48 hours) for most acute musculoskeletal injuries. Sources of cold therapy include ice bags (putting crushed ice in a thick plastic bag), commercial cold gel packs, or simply bags of frozen peas or corn. The application time for cold therapy varies depending on the body part and comfort but usually ranges from 10 – 30 minutes. Apply cold therapy at regular intervals throughout the day (e.g. 20 minutes on-20 minutes off). Areas with little body fat (e.g. bony areas of the knee, ankle, or elbow) do not tolerate cold well – application time should be kept to the lower end (10 minutes) whereas fatty areas can tolerate cold at the upper end (20-30 minutes). Applying too much cold for too long can cause frostbite and tissue damage. A thin towel can be placed between the ice bag and the skin to prevent frostbite. Cold therapy should be used cautiously by patients with poor circulation.

Heat therapy is recommended after the first 48 hours when the swelling has subsided, and during the rehabilitative phases of the injury. Local heat possesses a number of properties: it relieves pain by increasing blood flow and carries away waste products from the inflammatory process, relieves muscle spasm by relaxing muscles and reduces joint stiffness. Heat may be applied for 20 – 30 minutes every 2 to 4 hours as needed. Heat therapy should not be used by patients who are unconscious, those with impaired skin sensitivity, poor circulation or open wounds. Sources of local heat therapy include hot water bottles, electric heating pads and commercial heat packs. Care should be taken to avoid burns from the use of heat therapy products. Wrap hot water bottles and heat packs in a thin towel for comfort and safety. Never use while sleeping.

This has been a brief overview of minor sports-activity injuries. Always consult a health care professional if in doubt regarding the severity of an injury.

Your pharmacist at Smith Drugs and Apothecary is always pleased to assist you with any questions or concerns!

Norm Corriveau, B.Sc.Phm.


Drugstore Canada, “Tips for self-treating minor pain”, March 2012-, “Minor Sports Injuries”, Feb. 2012

Patient Self-Care, Sports Injuries, Canadian Pharmacists’ Assoc, 2011