Most common sporting injuries | ™

The most common sporting injuries

The most common sporting injuries

It is widely recognised that physical activity is good for our health and wellbeing. As a result, many people take up sports as a leisure pursuit. However, there is always a risk that we could come off worse, and sustain one, or more, sporting injuries.

Contact sports such as football, rugby, and basketball are notorious for sporting injuries due to their physical nature and the highly competitive arenas in which they are played. But are you more likely to sustain a sporting injury in American football or baseball? And is a hamstring injury more common than a knee injury?

With this in mind, analysed athlete injury data across various contact sports (football, rugby, baseball, basketball, ice hockey, and American football) in order to determine the most common sporting injuries, and in which sports they are most likely to occur.

The most common sporting injuries

Which sport injuries are the most common?

The most common sporting injury in this study was the knee injury, accounting for 18% of the total injuries (14,000). Over 2,500 participants injured their knee between 2018 and 2022, compared to just over 1,300 who sustained ankle injuries. The six surveyed sports all demand a degree of running, and most require you to successfully evade an opponent with quick turns. This will put more pressure on these joints, resulting in a greater chance of injury.

Almost 60% of knee injuries and 30% of ankle injuries can be attributed to American football. With players weighing up to 400lbs (180kg), this can exert huge stress and strain on the body, particularly the legs (notwithstanding the damage to an opponent, of being struck by these colossal structures at over 20mph).

In third place is the shoulder injury, with only 14 fewer recorded cases compared to ankles. This is most likely to occur in baseball (41%), due to the repeated swinging arm motion and striking of the ball.

In fourth position is the hamstring injury. This is normally caused by sudden, powerful movements, such as sprinting, lunging, or jumping—all of which are associated with these six sports. As a result, 6% of all sporting injuries can be attributed to this affliction, with the overwhelming majority associated with American football (60%).

Concluding the top five are elbow injuries, with just over 750 reported incidents across the last four years, and accounting for approximately 5% of all sporting injuries. Almost three-quarters of these come from baseball alone, representing a fifth of the sport’s total injuries.

Back and foot injuries are in sixth and seventh place respectively, with around 600 reported cases (roughly 4% of the total) for each. Baseball accounts for 40% of all back injuries, whereas American football accounts for almost 60% of all foot injuries.

Given that these are all contact sports, you might expect concussions to be higher on the list. Rugby is the biggest culprit, with 25% of all reported concussion injuries. This is perhaps unsurprising, given the amount of head-crushing and tackling that takes place in the game, plus the reported rise in national rates of concussion in elite rugby. However, since 2018 there have been just over 500 reported incidents of players knocked temporarily unconscious on the field of play, equating to just over 4% of the total injuries.

Most common baseball injuries

With a ferocious swing required to knock the ball out of the park, baseball is likely to cause a degree of wear and tear to your body. The most common baseball injuries are to the upper parts of the body, notably 19% to the elbow, with 16% to the shoulder. There is a 7% chance you will damage your knee, particularly as you sprint between each base to get back home for that all-important home run.

Most common injuries in football

In contrast to baseball, it’s the lower half of your body that takes the brunt of football injuries. There are twice as many knocks to the knee compared to head injuries, with the former accounting for 22%. Whilst the sign of a footballer rolling around on the floor is a frustrating element of the game, those that have genuinely pulled a ‘hammy’ can relate to the agony this can cause. Almost one in five football injuries can be ascribed to hamstring-related injuries.

Most common American football injuries

There are more American football injuries than any other sport in this study, with a staggering 6,325 recorded between 2018 and 2022. This might not come as a surprise, however, given the seemingly brutal nature of the sport. Similar to football, a lot of the force is taken in the lower part of the body, with almost a quarter of American football injuries to the knee and 13% to the ankle.

Most common injuries in rugby

Unlike American football, rugby players have very little to protect them in terms of headwear. As a result, it is foreseeable that the latter would suffer a greater rate of head injuries. In fact, 21% of rugby injuries can be attributed to concussions, yet this figure is less than 5% for American football.

Knees also take their fair share of knocks, accounting for 18% of rugby injuries. On the other hand, shoulders represent almost 10%, due to the regular throwing of the ball and crunching tackles as they hit the ground.

Most common ice hockey injuries

Ice hockey is a sport that requires speed, agility and flair. As a direct-contact sport, it’s inevitable that players will collide at points in the match, but injuries also can arise from the physical demands of the sport on your body. As a result, the upper and lower body both take a pounding on match day and during practice. Both account for around 23% of injuries, making up almost half of the total amount of injuries for the sport between 2018 and 2022.

Most common injuries in basketball

Despite the amount of throwing involved, the top three injuries in basketball are all located in the legs. Repeatedly jumping up and down, alongside the ducking and diving to avoid your opponent, will inevitably take its toll on your knees. Unsurprisingly therefore, knee afflictions are the most common injury sustained in basketball, at 21%. Twists and turns on the court can certainly account for a number of ankle and foot injuries (17% and 8% respectively).

What is the most dangerous sport overall, based on sporting injuries?

On the face of it, American football certainly appears to be the most dangerous sport. It has almost double that of baseball in second place, which experienced just over 3,300 injuries between 2018 and 2022.

In addition to the high-impact nature of the sport, the risk of injury is further increased as there are nearly 1700 NFL registered players. This equates to 3.7 injuries per player across the four years (almost one sporting injury per player, per year). Interestingly, this brings it in line with the rate for baseball, which as well as having half the number of injuries, also has half the number of players.

By comparison, basketball experienced more than 1,500 injuries over the last four years, yet only has 500 players in the NBA. This resulted in less than one injury per player, per year.

It is worth noting that not all sports are played on a level playing field. For example, American football has a far greater number of players in the NFL, compared to the number of Premier League footballers. Therefore we would expect more injuries. Not all sports are the same length of time, played in the same conditions, or require the same movements/exertions on the body.

Therefore the only fair conclusion is to take each sport on its individual merits, and ensure the game is played as safe as possible in order to reduce the likelihood of athletes sustaining an injury.

Expert comment

Joe Dale, sports expert and founder of VPS Medicine, offered guidance on how to minimise the risk of sports injuries, as outdoor activities kick into high gear during summer:

  1. Do your warm ups
    This sounds boring, but the vast majority of minor sports-related injuries I’ve encountered could be avoided with regular and sensible warm-up and warm-down regimes! The warm-up should involve dynamic stretching, which will allow the joints to become lubricated, as well as allow the tendon, muscle and ligament around the joints to get used to being stretched.
  2. Don’t forget to warm down
    After completing any sporting activity, a warm-down is vital to help get rid of the waste products built up during exercise. Without a proper warm-down, the waste products such as lactic acid can linger in the muscles and lead to serious DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness).
  3. Strengthen your muscles
    Spraining the ankle ligaments and hamstrings are both very common sporting injuries, but can often be prevented by strengthening the appropriate muscles. Hence, it’s vital to spend some time in the gym strengthening the muscles that you’ll be using, as the stronger your muscles are, the more easily they can protect the surrounding joint.
  4. Build up slowly
    If you haven’t exercised for a long time, don’t be tempted to think that you can start at the level you did as a 16-year-old. Even if you’ve kept fit in other ways, each sport is unique in the way it uses the joints and muscles – so build up slowly and try taking it gently for the first couple of sessions to allow your body to adapt to the sport.


  1. were keen to uncover the most common physical injuries in different sports.
  2. Firstly, the experts built a seed list of popular sports, considering only those categorised as contact or collision sports.
    1. Only sports with available data were selected for the study: Football (Premier League data), Baseball (MLB data), Basketball (NBA data), Rugby (Super Rugby data), American football (NFL data), Ice hockey (NHL data).
  3. Athlete injury data was collated from reputable sports websites as well as fantasy league injury trackers, to identify the different types of sports injuries which occurred over four years between 2018 and 2022.
    1. Due to more recent football injury data being infeasible to collect, 2017 figures were taken into account for football to achieve a similar sample size across all sports.
  4. Subsequently, scrutinised the data set and removed entries of players who had the same injury within one year for accuracy. All players were grouped based on their injury types.
  5. The total occurrence of each injury type was calculated, and was ranked descendingly to reveal the most common sports injuries.
  6. Next, analysed multiple online sites and acquired the number of players in each of the sports leagues examined.
    1. Data sources: Premier League (2022), Major League Baseball (2021), National Basketball Association (2021), Super Rugby (2022), National Football League (2021), National Hockey League (2021/2022).
  7. By dividing the total injury count in each sport by the amount of players, the average number of injuries per player was obtained. This was then further ranked from highest to lowest to identify which of the six contact sports studied is the most dangerous.
  8. All data was collected from May 19th 2022 to May 26th 2022 and is accurate as of then.

*Where some data is crowdsourced by fans, please take note that figures may not be 100% accurate.

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