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Athletes & Peripheral Nerve Injuries

Updated: Oct 3, 2023

Peripheral nerve injuries are most common among athletes, both professional and amateur. Some of these injuries are specific to certain sports, others can occur in many different sporting activities. This comprehensive overview of sport-specific peripheral nerve injuries aims to help healthcare professionals in understanding the morbidity associated with particular sports.

THE SPORTS While football, hockey, and baseball are the most commonly associated sports with peripheral nerve injuries, many other sports have unique associations with these injuries. This article will help neurologists, neurosurgeons, orthopedic surgeons, physiatrists, sports medicine doctors, and general physicians who come in contact with athletes at risk for neurologic injuries.

Types of Peripheral Nerve Injuries in Sports:

Sport-related peripheral nerve injuries can affect any level of the peripheral axis, including the nerve root, plexus, and peripheral nerve. The most frequently involved nerves are the brachial plexus, radial nerve, ulnar nerve, peroneal nerve, and axillary nerve. More often than not, peripheral nerve injuries are caused by continuous compression and repeated trauma to the involved nerve. While nerve injuries that occur during any specific sport account for less than 0.5% of all traumatic peripheral nerve injuries, recent studies suggest a higher rate in India. The risks and types of sport-related peripheral nerve injuries vary by sport and can be generally classified by their onset, whether acute or chronic, and whether they occur in full-contact or non-contact sports. Most acute sport-related peripheral nerve injuries tend to occur in the setting of high-frequency repetitive movements. For example, ulnar neuropathy in baseball pitches and suprascapular neuropathy in swimmers and volleyball players.


Proper diagnosis of peripheral nerve injuries requires the identity of their pathophysiology and severity to initiate appropriate treatment. A detailed clinical history and examination, the use of imaging and electrodiagnostic techniques, and awareness of other conditions that affect peripheral nerve are essential for the diagnosis of sport-related peripheral nerve injuries.

Understanding sport-related peripheral nerve injuries is crucial for healthcare professionals who come in contact with athletes at risk for neurologic injuries. Early recognition and appropriate management can prevent unnecessary diagnostic testing and delays in proper diagnosis.

OUR ROLE: Physiotherapy plays a vital role in the management of these injuries, both in the immediate post-injury period and in the long-term rehabilitation phase.

In the acute phase, physiotherapy may focus on reducing pain and inflammation, preventing muscle wasting and contracture, and restoring joint range of motion. Treatment modalities such as electrotherapy, soft tissue mobilization, and cryotherapy may be employed.

As the athlete progresses to the rehabilitation phase, physiotherapy aims to promote nerve regeneration, strengthen muscles, and improve proprioception and balance. A comprehensive rehabilitation program may include exercises to improve strength, endurance, and flexibility, as well as techniques such as neuromuscular re-education, nerve mobilization, biofeedback, and functional electrical stimulation.

Overall, the role of physiotherapy in peripheral nerve injuries for athletes is crucial in ensuring the athlete's safe and optimal return to sport. By providing tailored and individualized treatment programs, physiotherapists can help athletes regain their function and achieve their performance goals.

ABTP centers all over India focus on the most unexplored areas of peripheral injuries in sports, which are rarely reported. With expertise and knowledge throughout the globe and with the latest technologies, they focus on grooming and building the skills of elite and amateur athletes from the grassroots level. For more information, visit our website.

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