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Sports Medicine

There are multitudes of sports-related injuries that affect athletes of all ages. These range from severe (torn ACL) to milder cases (sprained ankle). At the Sports Medicine Clinics at the UNM Health System, our specialists are highly skilled and trained in musculoskeletal medicine.

So whether you are a high school athlete dying to get back on the field or court, or a post-retiree enjoying weekly rounds of golf, we are here to help you reduce time away from the activities you love.

Most sports-related injuries – 90% in fact – do not require surgery. Most times the RICE treatment – rest, ice, compression, elevation – will help heal mild injuries. Moderate and severe sprains, however, will likely require evaluation by an orthopaedic physician. You may need a splint or brace to immobilize the joint. If a ligament, tendon or muscle is torn, surgery may be required. You also may benefit from specialized physical therapy designed for sports rehabilitation.

Below you will find more detailed information on the most common types of sports-related injuries that we treat.

 Sprains and Strains

These are probably the most common injuries among athletes and weekend warriors alike. They share similar symptoms and treatments, but they are associated with different parts of your body. Also, they cannot always be prevented. But by maintaining a regular exercise program that includes stretching and strengthening exercises, you may be able to reduce your risk of both.

  • Sprains
    • When one of the ligaments that connect your bones together is stretched too far, even to the point of tearing, it is sprained. Symptoms include pain, swelling, inflammation and bruising. At the time of injury there may be a popping or tearing sensation, and the joint may becoming non-functional if it is severe enough.
  • Strains
    • When either muscles or the tendons that attach them to your bones are stretched or torn, they become strained. Muscle weakness (spasms), pain, swelling, cramping and inflammation often indicate a strain. If the muscle or tendon is ruptured, the pain may be so bad as to be incapacitating. Strains commonly occur in the hamstring and lower back.


Tendinitis occurs when the tendons in your body become inflamed or irritated. It can occur in any tendon in the body, but it most commonly affects around the wrists, shoulders, elbows and heels. Repetitive motions, often due to jobs or hobbies that irritate the tendons, are typical causes of tendinitis.

Common tendinitis-related problems include: Swimmer’s shoulder, pitcher’s shoulder, tennis elbow and golfer’s elbow. Symptoms often include pain and tenderness, a dull, aching sensation, and swelling.

  • Home treatments for tendinitis
    • Rest the affected tendon. Any activity that increases pain or swelling should be avoided
    • Ice the affected area for 20 minutes at a time several times a day
    • Elevate the affected area above heart level, which will help reduce swelling
    • Protect the area using a splint, sling, crutches or cane to facilitate healing and protect the area from further injury
    • Non-steroidal, anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) or acetaminophen can be used to control pain and inflammation
    • Contact your physician to be evaluated

Your physician will often be able to diagnose tendinitis based on a physical exam, but further imaging tests (x-ray, MRI, etc.) in order to confirm the diagnosis and prescribe an appropriate treatment plan. This may include medications (such as corticosteroid injections) to reduce inflammation and pain, or physical therapy to strengthen and stretch the injured muscles and tendons. In some cases surgery may be necessary.

Knee Problems

The knee is a critical joint for virtually every athletic activity. It supports nearly the entire weight of the body and is therefore prone to injuries like ligament and meniscus tears. Most ligament injuries can be avoided by using proper form during competition and training. If you experience pain it is critical to rest.

  • ACL injuries
    • The anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) connects the back of the thighbone to the front of the shine bone. It is the most commonly injured knee ligament and is often injured through hyperextension or twisting motions
    • Because ACL injuries tend to involve pain and swelling, immediate treatments focus on decreasing both. Rest, pain medications and crutches will be used as needed. Physical therapy or a knee brace can also help patients regain a full range of motion
    • However, some patients will require surgery to reconstruct the ACL if it is torn or sufficiently damaged. It is typically an arthroscopic and outpatient procedure
  • Meniscus injuries
    • The meniscus is C-shaped cartilage that protects the knee joint. It buffers the joint while limiting the knee’s ability to flex and extend. It may get torn if the knee is twisted or hyper-flexed.
    • Treatment may include ice to reduce swelling, NSAIDs to control pain and swelling and a knee brace or crutches.
    • Oftentimes arthroscopic surgery is needed to repair or remove the torn fragment.
  • Other knee ligament injuries
    • The posterior cruciate ligament (PCL), medial collateral ligament (MCL) and lateral collateral ligament (LCL) are all also prone to injury.
    • Treatment for most PCL, MCL and LCL injuries are non-operative, but surgery is sometimes necessary if one of the ligaments is damaged badly enough
    • Typical treatment of pain medication, rest, physical therapy and crutches or a brace is often prescribed


Items to remember to bring to your appointment include:

  • Current medical records
  • Copies of recent medical imaging (x-rays, MRIs, etc.) related to your visit
  • Current list of all medications
  • If you have a running injury, please bring your running shoes or a video of yourself running outdoors

If you are receiving a high school sports physical, you can download and fill out the NMAA physical form [PDF] beforehand.

Schedule an appointment: (505) 272-4866


UNM Sandoval Regional Medical Center
3001 Broadmoor Blvd NE
Rio Rancho, NM 87144
Appointments are Mondays and Wednesdays.

Outpatient Surgery & Imaging Service
1213 University NE
Albuquerque, NM 87102
Phone: 505-272-2231
Fax: 505-925-4919
Monday – Friday: 8 a.m. - 5 p.m.
Referrals Needed

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