Some long-distance runners constantly feel pain in their feet when they exercise. Soccer players might hear a loud pop in their knee, followed by swelling and joint instability. Still other athletes wonder why they always have nagging aches in their hip.
Over and over again, sports medicine doctors see patients 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? WebMD asked two sports medicine experts to share their expertise.
Hip and groin injuries
Several common injuries can plague the hips and groin. If someone takes a bad tumble to the ground or is struck in the hip during a contact sport, a contusion or bruise may develop.
When people cut quickly to the side during running, or stop and start too fast, they may strain their groin or the hamstring (back of the thigh) or quadriceps (the front of the thigh). Such strains can happen in many sports, according to Jeanne Doperak, DO, a sports medicine physician and assistant professor at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. But they often occur in “track and field athletes who do quick starts and stops,” she says. Such muscle strains are usually treated with physical therapy and rest.
In recent years, doctors have become more aware of a hip injury called a “labral tear,” says James E. Carpenter, MD, chairman and associate professor in the department of orthopedic surgery at the University of Michigan and a team physician.
The labrum is a ring of cartilage that surrounds the hip socket. “It helps support the joint and stabilize the joint,” he says. During physical activity, if the labrum is repeatedly “pinched” between the socket and the head of the thigh bone, it can eventually tear. “They’re common throughout sports,” Carpenter says of labral tears. “We see it in gymnasts and people who have to use a wide range of motion in the hip.”
Doctors diagnose labral tears through magnetic resonance imaging, or MRIs. Milder cases often don’t require surgery, Carpenter says, but more serious and painful cases may call for an operation.
Knees can ache for many reasons, including runner’s knee. Runners with weak thigh muscles may have kneecaps that move sideways and rub abnormally against the thigh bone, causing pain.
Furthermore, “The knee is vulnerable,” Carpenter says, “because of all your weight and your pivoting, and it’s often hit in contact or twisted. That is still far and away the most commonly injured joint.”
If people play team sports such as football and soccer, trauma to the knee can damage ligaments, for example, when the knee is struck during a block or tackle, Carpenter says. If the knee is struck from the outside, the medial collateral ligament inside the knee can be stretched -- and if the force is significant -- it can be injured or torn.