You’re going for your favorite run when your feet start to hurt. Or you hear about a soccer star who’s benched for the season after hearing a loud pop in their knee. Or you know someone who played football and now has nagging aches in their hip.
Over and over again, sports medicine doctors see people coming in with certain sports and exercise injuries in the hips, knees, ankles, and feet. What are some of these common problems, and what can you do about them?
Hip and Groin
Several common injuries can strike in this area.
Bruises: These can happen if you take a bad tumble to the ground or get struck in the hip during a contact sport.
Strains: If you cut quickly to the side while you run, or stop and start too fast, you may strain your groin, the hamstring (back of the thigh), or quadriceps (the front of the thigh). The treatment for such muscle strains is usually physical therapy and rest.
Labral tear: The labrum is a ring of cartilage that surrounds the hip socket. It helps support and stabilize the joint. During physical activity, if the labrum gets repeatedly “pinched” between the socket and the head of the thigh bone, it can eventually tear. It may be more likely to happen in activities like gymnastics, dance, or other activities where you need a wide range of motion in your hips.
Doctors diagnose labral tears through magnetic resonance imaging, or MRIs. Milder cases often don’t need surgery, but more serious and painful cases may call for an operation.
Knees can ache for many reasons. They are also vulnerable if you have to pivot a lot. Your knee is a hinge joint that can have a variety of injuries, including these:
Runner’s knee. Runners with weak or imbalanced thigh muscles may have kneecaps that move sideways and rub abnormally against the thighbone, causing pain.
Knee ligament injuries: If your knee turns suddenly, you hear a “pop,” and it swells, it could be an injury to your ACL, or anterior cruciate ligament. Women are more likely to get ACL injuries than men, but they can happen to anyone.
If you play team sports such as football and soccer, trauma to the knee can damage ligaments; for example, if your knee is struck during a block or tackle. If it’s struck from the outside, your MCL (medial collateral ligament) inside the knee can be stretched, or even torn.
Strengthening the knee with targeted exercises and having good balance will help prevent ligament tears. Wearing a brace on your knee might also help, but ask your doctor if you need one.
Ankles and Feet
The lower leg is prone to many common injuries, including shin splints, calf strain, Achilles tendinitis, and sprains and fractures.
Ankle sprains are common, causing swelling, bruising, and pain, most often on the outside of the foot. Often, you can treat these sprains at home with rest, icing and raising the ankle, and compression. If your sprain is more serious, it may need to be splinted, or you might need surgery. After a serious ankle sprain, you might need physical therapy to rehab and strengthen the affected ankle.
Stress fractures in the foot: These are small cracks in the bone, and they can happen when feet repeatedly hit the ground. They’re an overuse injury — they happen most often when you’re running or doing another high-impact activity too much.
Achilles tendon problems: Your Achilles tendon can get strained or even tear, and it’s more likely in activities where you push off, such as during a jump. If it’s a mild strain, it might heal on its own. But if it tears completely, you may need surgery to repair it. You can also get Achilles tendonitis, in which the tendon becomes inflamed because it’s overused.
After any kind of ankle or foot injury, see a doctor if it’s very painful or hard for you to put your weight on it.
These simple steps can help you head off lower-body injuries.
- Make sure you wear shoes that suit your sport and are in good shape.
- Always warm up before you start a game or workout.
- Ask your doctor or team coach if you need shoe inserts to support your feet, or if it would help to tape or brace your ankles for better stability.
- Wear proper footwear for an activity, such as running shoes for running and basketball shoes for basketball.
- Don’t do too much, too hard, or too soon. Rest, or easier days, should be part of your training plan.
- Don’t run on uneven surfaces.