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The Physics of Sports-Related Injuries and How to Recover From Them: Analysis of ACL Tears

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This paper explores the physics behind sports-related injuries and how to recover from them. There are four published articles that will be presented in this paper reporting sports-related injuries and how physics affects the severity of the injury and the best ways to recover and potentially prevent the injury. Mirksy (2010); Pelletier (2006); Cai, Wu, Zhao, Li, Wu, Ji (2018); Colvin, and Lynn (2010) have all presented reasonable arguments as to why injuries in sports such as football, baseball, and soccer occur. This paper examines research in relation to injuries due to sports and recovery time necessary.

Keywords: concussion, ACL tears, head trauma, spinal injuries, baseball, football, soccer

The Physics of Sports-Related Injuries and How to Recover From Them

In every sport known to man, there are injuries. Some injuries may take days or just hours to recover, where others can take months or years. Depending on the injury, some injuries are too severe for the player to ever recover. Do you know that the likelihood of a player recovering from an injury has to do with the physics of how the player gets injured? Many studies have been conducted to analyze the injuries that occur to an athlete and the recovery time necessary. Mirksy (2010); Pelletier (2006); Cai, Wu, Zhao, Li, Wu, Ji(2018); Colvin, and Abigail Lynn (2010) have all written papers on the injuries to athletes that I will be viewing at in my paper. There is not just one sport that has severe injuries. There are many sports that include severe injuries, but in my essay, I will be discussing the injuries that come from baseball, football, and soccer.

Head Trauma from a Baseball. Baseball can be overlooked as a sport that can cause career-ending injuries. As Mirksy (2010) states, “Baseball is a game of trajectories.” When a pitcher stands on the mound, he always has an idea of what he wants the ball to do, but one little slip can cause a completely different result than expected. There has only been one man who has been killed in major league baseball (Mirksy, 2010). His name is Ray Chapman, the shortstop for the Cleveland Indians. He was struck by a pitch from Yankees, Carl Mays. When struck by a pitch in his temple, he fell unconscious and was never able to recover. Carl Mays did not mean to kill a man by his pitch, but one little flaw in the rotation of May’s hand caused the ball’s speed and rotation to change, resulting in the death of Chapman. The momentum that the ball gained from the way Mays threw it, allowed the ball to gain speed as it was being released. With the gained speed it resulted in a harder impact causing Chapman not to recover. Not all baseball injuries are as severe as Ray Chapman’s. Most baseball injuries happen after the ball and bat make contact. When a player is up to bat, he is unaware of how the pitcher will throw the ball. The player must trust his instincts when deciding to swing at a pitch that could be as fast as ninety miles per hour. The player does not always make the right decision on which ball is the best one to hit, resulting in injuries. As a ball is thrown and the batter makes bad contact, it can have a bad reaction. Mirksy (2010) claims that as Alex Rodriguez hit a pitch by Cleveland Indians David Huff the ball flies right back to the middle resulting in an impact at Huff’s face. The impact of Huff’s face caused the ball to roll to the wall of the right field. Many fans were very fearful of the future of Huff, but Mirksy (2010) claims that he was very optimistic about his recovery because of the physics on the ball. He states that since the ball had ricocheted so far and so fast he knew that “much of the ball’s energy of motion would have been imparted to the pitcher. But said energy appeared to have been expended to sending the ball skittering into the right field corner, with only a small amount of having been transferred to Huff’s head (Mirksy, 2010). This action of the ball allowed Mirksy to see that Huff was going to make a full recovery within a few weeks because none of the energy was transferred to Huff’s brain causing traumatic brain damage.

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Concussions in Football. Brain damage in athletes is one of the most underrated killers in sports, more specifically, in football. With many head-to-head collisions in the game, the result is a concussion. “Impact kinematics such as linear and rotational accelerations are convenient ways to characterize impact severity” (Cai, Wu, Zhao, Li, Wu, Ji, 2006,p. 2). These kinematics along with others have been used to examine the brain injury risk. Even though kinematics can prove the severity of the injury, the only way to know how it affects the player is by a response-based experiment (Cai, Wu, Zhao et al., 2006, p. 2). Once a diagnosis is a determined treatment is the next step. Everyone responds differently to every treatment. “Deep learning is the most recent advancement in feature-based classification, and it has achieved remarkable success in a wide array of science domains”(Cai, Wu, Zhao et al., 2006, p. 3). When an athlete is injured, it is a major setback for them. So athletes, along with coaches, will do anything to prevent an injury. This is why, over the years, new rules have been developed within the game to help prevent athletes from severe injuries, such as concussions. The targeting rule has played a big part in the prevention of concussions. With the targeting rule coming into play only a few years ago, this allows a player to not tackle by having a head-to-head collision. If a player does commit a targeting penalty, he will have to sit out for the rest of that game. Head trauma can be life-altering and knowing that there is a way to prevent this incident by applying stricter rules in the game is a way that could save a person’s life. Even though people take precautions to prevent head injuries they still occur, so doctors must still be prepared to treat these severe injuries. The authors trained on how to treat head injuries by using the “Worcester Head Injury Model to stimulate the reconstructed NFL head impacts” (Cai, Wu, Zhao et al., 2006, p. 3). “The WHIM was created based on high-resolution T1-weighted MRI of an individual athlete” (Cai, Wu, Zhao et al., 2006, p. 3). This model shows how the brain responds after severe impacts such as head-to-head collisions. The WHIM along with other models has greatly impacted how doctors treat sports-related concussions. Doctors rely on their deep learning training to help them develop the best treatments for brain damage. This allows models composed of “multiple processing layers to learn representations of data with multiple levels of abstraction” (Cai, Wu, Zhao et al., 2006, p. 4). These models allow the doctors to focus more on what causes the least severe and the most severe brain damage. The more doctors study the physics of head trauma the more they will be able to find a way to treat the injury in the most efficient and quickest way.

ACL tears in soccer: women vs men. ACL tears among sports are becoming more and more common these days, especially in soccer. As more women become involved in soccer, more ACL tears have occurred (Colvin and Lynn, 2010, p. 308). It is not unlikely for a male soccer player to tear his ACL, but studies show that “female soccer players are nearly 3 times more likely than male soccer players to tear their ACL” (Colvin and Lynn, 2010, p. 308). There have been many theories as to why females have more ACL tears than men. The theories include “differences in anatomy, hormone levels, and neuromuscular factors” (Colvin and Lynn, 2010, p. 308), but none has been proven to be the main reason. A big contribution to women’s ACL tears is the way women play soccer compared to how men play it. Women typically play sports with more intensity than men, putting more strain on their bodies, and causing their impacts to be more intense. ACL tears are mostly caused by the players’ impact to the ground (Colvin and Lynn, 2010, p. 308). With women having a more intense manner while playing soccer; this typically causes women to have harder impacts causing their knees to give out, resulting in a tear in the ACL.

Today people are finding ways to prevent these kinds of injuries. A big way that has been proven to help with ACL tears, for women, in particular, is injury-reduction training (Colvin and Lynn, 2010, p. 308). It has been found that if men and women work out on a weekly basis, it helps strengthen the muscles around the ACL area. As the muscles around the ACL are strengthened the ACL has more cushion around it. With the muscles around your ACL being strong, this allows your body to take harder impacts when landing because your muscles will encounter more of the impact than your ACL will. Flexibility is a key factor in ACL tear prevention (Colvin and Lynn, 2010, pg. 308). As you stretch your body it stretches your muscles. As your muscles are stretched, it allows them to compensate with a harder fall. The stronger and more flexible you are, the less likely you are to suffer an ACL tear.

Spinal injuries due to tackles in football. Spearing is seen to be a key factor in spinal injuries in the sport of football. “Spearing is defined as an intentional head-down contact with the top or crown of the helmet” (Pelletier, 2018, p. 197). This technique causes a lot of stress on your spine at impact. As a player is running full speed at another player head first, the impact of this reaction greatly increases the chance of life-threatening spinal injuries (Pelletier 197). According to Isaac Newton’s third law of motion, an object in motion stays in motion unless an unbalanced force is acted upon it. With this in mind, as a player is running towards another player, the player running is in motion, which means his whole body is in motion. When contact is made between the two players, energy is transferred throughout the body of the player in motion, resulting in compression of the spine. When a spine is compressed this could cause paralyzation for this player (Pelletier, 2018, p.197). “According to the National Center for Catastrophic Sports Injury Research, 7 players suffered permanent paralysis due to C-spine injuries sustained while playing football in 1995” (Pelletier, 2018, p. 199). Since that year the numbers have only increased. These spinal injuries are becoming more common as the years go on because football players are finding other ways to tackle their opponents, but little do they know they could be doing more damage to themselves than their opponents. The harder a player is running to tackle another player the more intense the impact becomes. The player in motion builds up a lot of force while running for a short period of time resulting in a harder impact. This causes all the forces at impact to transfer to the player’s neck and spine. Our spines are not meant to hold as much force as a football player can produce. This is why it is so dangerous to tackle someone head first. Our spines are very delicate and with one wrong move and we may never walk again (Pelletier, 2018, p. 199). How much force a player builds up as he is running results in how severe the spine injury will be after impact. If a player is running as fast as he possibly can towards another player, the sudden stop at impact will be a shock to his body. This shock that his body feels will not allow his spine to recover from what was just felt. So the harder a player hits another player at a slower pace than him the more likely his body will not be able to compensate, resulting in a critical spinal injury meaning a long and painful recovery.


In order to gain a complete understanding of how an injury occurs and how to recover from it, the physics of the injury must be examined. It is necessary to base a study from the physics in a sports injury to know what truly is wrong with an athlete and to know how to treat the athlete. Within the four articles presented in this paper, one can be see that physics is the reason why athletes become injured. Physics also helps doctors determine how to treat their patients. Doctors want to treat an athlete in the best and quickest way possible and according to Mirky; Pelletier; Colvin and Lynn; Cai, Wu, Zhao et al.; physics is the way to achieve this.


  1. Cai, Y., Wu, S., Zhao, W., Li, Z., Wu, Z., & Ji, S. (2018). Concussion classification via deep learning using whole-brain white matter fiber strains. PLoS ONE, 13(5), 1–21.
  2. Colvin, A. C., & Lynn, A. (2010). Sports-Related Injuries in the Young Female Athlete. Mount Sinai Journal of Medicine, 77(3), 307–314.
  3. Mirsky, S. (2010). Take Me Out of the Ball Game. Scientific American, 303(2), 92.
  4. Pelletier, J. C. (2006). Sports-related concussion and spinal injuries: the need for changing spearing rules at the National Capital Amateur Football Association (NCAFA). Journal of the Canadian Chiropractic Association, 50(3), 195–208. Retrieved from

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The Physics of Sports-Related Injuries and How to Recover From Them: Analysis of ACL Tears. (2022, September 27). Edubirdie. Retrieved June 10, 2023, from
“The Physics of Sports-Related Injuries and How to Recover From Them: Analysis of ACL Tears.” Edubirdie, 27 Sept. 2022,
The Physics of Sports-Related Injuries and How to Recover From Them: Analysis of ACL Tears. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 10 Jun. 2023].
The Physics of Sports-Related Injuries and How to Recover From Them: Analysis of ACL Tears [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Sept 27 [cited 2023 Jun 10]. Available from:
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