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Common Injury Terms

Reprinted with permission from "The Champion Within" by Lauren Gregg.
A common terminology extends across the spectrum of injury. An understanding of the basic medical terms associated with sports medicine may make understanding your injury easier. The following are common injury terms.

Fracture: A fracture is a break in the continuity of a bone. Athletes and trainers should consider the diagnosis of fracture after any significant musculoskeletal trauma. This is especially important when you have local deformity, swelling, bruising or significant pain. Possible fractures should be splinted in the field and the patient transported to an appropriate medical facility for radiographs and physician evaluation.

Dislocation: A dislocation is displacement of bone from it's normal position in a joint. With a dislocation, there is loss of limb function and you are usually suddenly unable to move the joint in question. Deformity is generally visible, and swelling and point-tenderness are immediately present. An x-ray examination may be the only way to distinguish a dislocation from a fracture. On occasion, a dislocation may be reduced (put back in place) on the field.

Subluxation: Subluxation is a partial or incomplete dislocation. It's not common to have deformity since the joint has not moved completely out of position. Symptoms include joint pain and transient loss of function.

Sprain: A sprain is an injury to a joint that damages the ligaments connecting the bones together to form the joint. The deforming force creating a sprain is usually an excessive stretch or shear. Any ligament can be affected in this way, but the ankle and knee ligamentous structures are especially prone to injury. Pain, local swelling, and discoloration may be evident, and the patient may exhibit apprehension whenever the joint is examined. Looseness, or joint laxity, may result when sprains occur.

Strain: A strain is an injury to the muscle or musculotendinous unit which usually results from contraction or excessive forcible stretch. Acute muscle strain can occur within any major muscle group, yet the most commonly involved in the lower extremity is the quadriceps, adductors, hamstrings, and the Achilles complex. You may be immediately aware that the muscle has been damaged. Occasionally, it feels as if something has "popped" in the effected muscle area. The Olympic sprinter putting up with a hamstring injury is a good example of acute muscle strain. Symptoms are local pain and muscle spasm with hematoma formation and loss of muscle function. A defect in the muscle may at times be palpable.

Contusion: A contusion is a compression injury or direct blow to the soft tissues of the body. Usually, this occurs to a muscle or musculotendinous unit but may also involve a bursa, or even bone. This is a especially common in contact-type sports. A contusion creates local pain and stiffness which is increased twelve to twenty-four hours following injury. There may be localized tenderness and hematoma (bruise) formation at the site of injury.

Acute Injury: An acute injury is one that results from sudden injury with rapid onset. Most of the above injuries occur in an acute setting.

Overuse Syndrome: This is an injury that occurs from repetitive micro-trauma over a longer period of time. Constant repetitive stressing of the body day after day can lead to microscopic changes involving soft tissues or bones. This may in turn lead to constant pain during and after activity.

These common terms apply to an injury regardless of it's anatomical location. A fracture in the lower extremity may be treated much the same as a fracture in the upper extremity. Similarly, contusions, sprains, and strains have common principles of healing and treatment regardless of location.

Mark Adams was the team doctor for the 1996 U.S. Women's Olympic Team and for the 1999 U.S. Women's World Cup team.



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