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Commonly Missed or Misdiagnosed Sports Injuries

These Sports Injuries Are Often Missed or Misdiagnosed

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Updated September 06, 2013

Athletes often get used to feeling little aches and pains on occasion, but some minor discomfort may actually be a more serious injury. In fact, there are several sports injuries that are frequently missed, overlooked or misdiagnosed.

Common Missed or Misdiagnosed Sports Injuries

1. Concussion

A severe impact or blow to the head can result in a jarring of the brain that has both short-term and long-term consequences. If left untreated, a concussion can lead to a slow brain bleed. Repeated concussions can cause extensive damage and can lead to long-term problems with memory or other brain functions. A head injury should always be checked out by a physician.

2. Achilles Tendon Rupture

The Achilles tendon is a large and vulnerably situated tendon. It joins the two calf muscles (gastrocnemius and the soleus) to the heel bone (calcaneous). A rupture occurs when the tendon is partially or completely separated. Because a partial rupture can result in very little pain, it is often misdiagnosed as a calf strain, or sprain. A classic sign of an Achilles tendon rupture is a "popping" sound and a sharp pain in the back of the lower leg. Because this injury does not heal on its own, it is important to see a physician to confirm the diagnosis.

3. Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) Knee Injuries

An ACL injury typically occurs when the ligament is stretched beyond its limit and tears. Often misdiagnosed as a sprain or a collateral ligament knee strain, this injury is common in sports that require abrupt stops and turns, such as soccer, football and basketball. An ACL tear most often requires surgical repair and extensive rehabilitation, so a visit to a physician is critical.

4. Scaphoid Fractures of the Wrist

This wrist injury often occurs from a fall on an outstretched arm. The scaphoid (navicular) is a small bone in the wrist that is one of the 8 carpal bones. This bone sits below the thumb and has a unique blood supply that can be easily disrupted by a fracture. Because the symptoms of a scaphoid fracture are similar to a sprain, it is often overlooked and may be misdiagnosed. Proper diagnosis and treatment is essential for healing.

5. Stress Fractures

Stress fractures are sometimes difficult to diagnose due to the vague discomfort and generalized pain over the bones with the injury (usually the lower leg and foot). They come on slowly over time and are often brought on by cumulative injuries to the muscles and bones. They are a common type of overuse or overtraining injury. Stress fractures occur when muscles become fatigued or overloaded and can no longer absorb the stress or shock and repeated impact. Fatigued muscles transfer that stress to the nearby bone and the result is a small crack (fracture) in the bone. They are common in runners who have recently increased the time or intensity of their exercise. It is often diagnosed initially as shin splints, or muscle strain or tendinitis. This injury is only healed by rest. If left untreated, chronic problems can occur. A trip to a physician is essential to diagnose this injury.

6. Talus Fractures

The talus is one of the most important bones of the ankle joint because it allows the calcaneus (heel) and the lower leg bones (the tibia and fibula) to articulate smoothly with each other. Initially, many talus fractures are mistaken for ankle sprains and strains, because the symptoms include pain, swelling, bruising and the inability to bare weight. Common causes of talus fractures are falling from a height and landing on the feet, car and motorcycle accidents, horseback riding accidents, and other traumatic impacts to the lower leg and foot. It's essential to have medical care and have appropriate imaging performed to rule out a bone fracture.

Source: The U.S. Market for First Aid and Sports Medicine Products Report, Mar. 1, 2004

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