5 Common Outdoor Sport Injuries: Causes, Prevention, And Treatment

What are the most common outdoor sport injuries, what can be done about them, and how can they be prevented?

Skiing. Kayaking. Backpacking. Regardless of the outdoor sport, one unfortunate truth is that injuries happen. Injuries often happen when enjoying some of our favorite outdoor adventures.

Outdoor sport injuries can occur for a number of reasons, but often they occur from overuse, under-training, and lack of preparedness.

Some of the most common outdoor sport injuries we see at Idaho Direct Physical Therapy are:

  1. Back Pain
  2. Ankle Sprains
  3. Knee Injury
  4. Hamstring Strain
  5. Shoulder Injury

Back Pain:

One of the most common injuries and causes of disability in the country is back pain. So it’s really no surprise that it ranks right at the top of our list as one of the most common outdoor sports injuries.

Pain in the back can occur for a variety of reasons, but typically we see people suffering from back pain because of: poor lifting technique, equipment that doesn’t fit quite right, and overuse.


If injury was abrupt and/or caused by trauma, a visit with a physician may be required. Especially, if loss of feeling or movement in legs occurs.

Heat or Ice? Initially, cold packs (20 minutes on, 20 minutes off) are recommended following injury for swelling and pain control. Medicine from your physician may also help with swelling and pain. Oftentimes, heat can increase swelling or pain of a new injury.

Therapeutic exercise for core strengthening and gentle range of motion exercises initially guided by a physical therapist for safe and quick recovery.

Going for walks on mostly even surfaces (sidewalks are fine, steep mountain trails may make matters worse) can be a great way to gently move your spine and increase blood flow for healing.

Ankle Sprains:


Ankle sprains can occur from missing a step in a parking lot to rolling an ankle on a 10 mile hike. They are caused by suddenly over stretching the ligaments that help support the ankle. Sprains often occur on the outside of the ankle, and are often accompanied by: pain, swelling, and bruising.


For sprains we want to start off with the acronym RICE: Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation. The first thing to address will be getting the swelling and pain controlled, and RICE will help do that.

The next phase is getting moving with a safe and gentle range of motion exercise regimen then gradually progressing into strengthening of the ankle joint guided by a physical therapist.

Knee Injury:

Knee injuries or pain can be caused by a number of things such as: soft tissue injury, muscle strains, and arthritis.


A good starting point with a new injury is the RICE method. However, this won’t entirely solve the problem.

As there are many different sources of pain for the knee, there are a number of treatments specific to each injury. At Idaho Direct Physical Therapy, a doctor of physical therapy thoroughly assesses the knee injury to determine the root cause, provides options for treatment, and if needed, refers patients to a physician.

Hamstring Strain:


Have you ever “pulled a hammy?” Most active people have at one point or another. Strains are caused by exerting or stretching a muscle too quickly leading to muscle strain. They happen frequently with athletes involved in sprinting-type activities but can occur with quick movements during outdoor sports as well.


Initially, following the injury using ice (again 20 minutes on and at least 20 minutes off) and use of compression can help with swelling and pain.

Then moving into gentle stretching and strengthening exercises for recovery guided by a physical therapist can be the fastest and most effective way to recover from a hamstring strain.

Shoulder Injury:


Shoulder injuries are a common source of pain for outdoor athletes. They are especially common with outdoor sports requiring the upper body like kayaking, but also occur in outdoor athletes like skiers or even hikers.


For injuries such as fractures, dislocation, or ligament injuries, a physician will be required initially to address the structural damage.

Ice, medicine (follow physician instructions on this), and immobilization can be helpful for pain and healing for a short time following injury.

The treatment following the initial onset of injury, and returning to activity, will likely include therapeutic exercises and activities guided by a skilled physical therapist to strengthen and regain mobility in your shoulder to safely return to the activities you love most.

Top 3 Injury Recovery Mistakes:


1. Waiting for it to get better on its own.

The biggest mistake I hear when people talk about recovering from injury is they are just letting it get better on it’s own. While time is certainly an important factor when it comes to healing, it isn’t and shouldn’t be the ONLY thing done for an injury. More often than not the pain doesn’t get better, and sometimes it gets worse!

2. Returning too early

Some people like to jump right back on the horse. While admirable as that may sound, if the injury was not addressed properly first, returning to activity/sport too soon often leads to worsening the injury and prolonging the healing time.

3. Going it alone

There are many how-to videos on the internet for self-treatment type guides for a million different injuries. The problem is, these treatments aren’t specific to YOUR injury. Not that some of the exercises or treatments on the internet are all bad, they just aren’t personalized to help a specific person or injury.

Top 3 Injury Prevention Tips

1. Equipment: Having proper equipment that fits well can go a long way in preventing injury when out enjoying outdoor sports. For example, footwear that supports the ankles and fits well on the foot can prevent not only foot and ankle injuries, but pain in the knees, hips and back.

2. Training: Getting into at least decent shape for the sports you plan to participate in can go a long way. For example, a person planning to go on a 10 mile hike should start with shorter hikes, and start a core, leg, and cardio program to safely enjoy what the outdoors have to offer.

At Idaho Direct Physical Therapy, a physical therapist and fellow outdoor enthusiast, helps people get started with a training regimen to safely prepare for outdoor adventures.

3. Planning: Not having a plan in place for a given adventure can lead to injuries and is a quick way to ruin a great adventure. Have the right equipment, plan the routes/distances, and make sure to have done some training ahead of time to minimize risk for injury.

Physical Therapy And Injury Recovery


Expert physical therapists such as our Doctors of Physical Therapy will provide a more detailed recovery plan for your specific injury.

Working with Switchback Direct Physical Therapy includes a thorough assessment of injury to determine the root cause of pain, a unique treatment plan designed specifically for your injury, and the tools to care for yourself in order to provide the quickest and most efficient route to returning to outdoor adventures.

For more information on how to get out of pain and back to the adventures contact Switchback Direct Physical Therapy today!


Disclaimer: This content is for general, informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice.


Dr. Tyler Burke

DPT, Owner and Founder of Switchback Direct PT

We help injured outdoor enthusiasts to stop hurting and start adventuring.

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