Commonly Missed or Misdiagnosed Sports Injuries

Concussions are common in sports.
Concussions are common in sports. Pete Norton/Getty Images

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, several sports injuries are frequently missed, overlooked, or misdiagnosed.


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 physician should always check out a head injury.

Achilles Tendon Rupture

The Achilles tendon is large and vulnerably situated. It joins the two calf muscles (gastrocnemius and the soleus) to the heel bone (calcaneus). A rupture occurs when the tendon is separated. Because a 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 typically does not heal on its own, it is important to have a physician confirm the diagnosis.

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 collateral ligament knee strain, ACL injuries are common in sports that require abrupt stops and turns, such as soccer, football, and basketball.

An ACL strain often includes a feeling of joint instability or the knee giving way.

An ACL tear most often requires surgical repair and extensive rehabilitation, so a visit to a physician is critical.

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, one of the eight carpal bones. This bone sits below the thumb and has a unique blood supply that a fracture can easily disrupt.

Since the symptoms of a scaphoid fracture are similar to a sprain, it is often overlooked and may be misdiagnosed. Proper diagnosis and treatment are essential for healing.

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.

Talus Fractures

The talus is one of the most important ankle joint bones because it allows the calcaneus (heel) and the lower leg bones (the tibia and fibula) to articulate smoothly. Initially, many talus fractures are mistaken for ankle sprains and strains because the symptoms include pain, swelling, bruising, and the inability to bear 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.

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