Injury Prevention for Active Duty Personnel

 Sports and Physical Training Injuries

Last Updated: May 06, 2024

​​​​​​Injury prevention pertaining to sports and physical training.

  • Extreme Conditioning Programs (ECPs)
  • Eye Injuries
  • Physical Training
  • Running
  • Stretching
  • Team Sports 
  • Warming Up and Cooling Down
  • Weight Training
  • Winter Sports
  • Related Topics

Extreme Conditioning Programs (ECP)

Exercise programs that include multiple high-intensity aerobic and muscle strengthening activities have become quite popular. While specific studies of ECPs are still limited, common injuries such as shoulder and back have been noted due to the weight-lifting components of these programs. Although the Army has not specifically endorsed ECPs, exercise programs that include a proper balance of aerobic and muscle strengthening activities are at the core of the Army's standardized physical readiness training (PRT) regimen. Primary prevention strategies include ensuring use of certified trainers, the gradual increase of weights, repetitions, speed, and rest days. Technical references.

Eye Injuries

Though DoD eye injury medical records often do not capture the cause of Service Members eye injuries that are treated, when a cause is noted “sports” are​ identified as one of the common types of ‘causes.’ Source​ 

Sports that have highest risk of eye injuries include those involving high velocity objects (baseball, softball, hockey, racquet sports), or person-to-person contact especially without headgear (basketball, soccer, touch-football). Use of the proper sports-protective eyewear is the key to prevention. Evidence has found that use of inappropriate eye wear (non-shatterproof glass or sun protection) actually can increase the risk of severe eye injury). Various forms of approved shatterproof goggles are recommended for different sports and for those with prescriptions. Ask your eye doctor for recommendations. SourceExternal Link

​ Physical Training

One of the biggest problems with many exercise programs, especially in some Army units, is following a training program that relies on too much running. Excessive running can mean running distances that are too long, too often, increasing distances too rapidly especially for newer runners, or not allowing adequate rest and periodization for individuals with existing injuries and/or other physical conditions. To reduce chance of injuries ensure that your physical training program:

  • Balances running with other forms of aerobic activities (such as cycling or swimming) and anaerobic exercise including muscle strengthening and agility activities
  • Gradually increases amount duration and intensity of any new activity (e.g., running, weight-lifting) or when recovering from injury​
  • Includes adequate rest periods by alternating types of activities on different days, ensuring adequate rest time when injured

Key military policy and doctrine can be found in FM​​ 7-22 ​Holistic Health and FitnessExternal Link and TB MED 592 Prevention and Control of Musculoskeletal Injuries Associated with Physical Training External Link. Technical references

Read our article on avoiding injury External Link.


Running is one of the most popular forms of exercise, at the heart of military physical training, and, one of the most common causes of injury in Active Duty Soldiers. While running is an excellent form of cardiovascular (aerobic) exercise, the repetitive stresses to the body can result in injury. Most common injuries include sprains, strains, and stress fractures to the lower extremities (knee, lower leg, ankle, foot). Most of these injuries appear to be associated with doing too much too fast, or too much too often. These are documented as "overtraining" or "overexertion" injuries and thus are largely considered preventable. Contrary to some beliefs, science has not identified specific running form(s) or shoe types to address most running injuries. Instead, ensuring a proper gradual increase to distances run, moderating overall running distance and frequency, and balancing running with muscle strengthening and agility activities are the best means to reduce chance of injuries. Technical references


A common question asked is whether one should stretch prior to working out or after working out to reduce risk of injury.

Though the American College of Sports Medicine recommends 2-3 days a week of flexibility stretchingExternal Link, the current science as to when, how much, what type of stretching might reduce injury is still inconclusive. This is because the limited studies available have evaluated stretching differently – including different types of stretching (such as static, dynamic, ballistic, plyometric), types of exercise, durations, outcomes, and populations. Certain kinds of stretches have been shown to increase the range of motion (ROM) of a muscle or muscle group which can improve performance. However, stretching prior to exercise has not been proven as a means to reduce risk of injury, and may even increase risk of certain injuries. Individual risk is also a factor, since both those persons most flexible and those least flexible have higher injury rates than those with moderate flexibility.

The current ASCM recommendation is 5-10 minutes of light to moderate cardiovascular warm up before stretching. After exercising, some gentle stretching may help reduce soreness, but this depends on the type of stretching and exercise. Gentle cardiovascular cool downs may also serve this purpose. See section below on "Warming Up and Cooling Down." Future assessment of stretching benefits and disadvantages are planned to elicit clearer guidelines. Technical references.


Team Sports (Basketball, Football, Softball)

  • Basketball

    Basketball has been identified as a leading sport causing injuries to Army Soldiers – including during deployment, where basketball injuries have contributed to many medical evacuations. Substantial literature has also investigated the types of inj​uries resulting from basketball and means to minimize risk of injuries. Mouthguards can reduce risk of orofacial and dental injuries; read our Mouthguard Factsheet. The use of a rigid ankle brace could reduce rates of ankle injuries, a leading type of basketball injury. Technical references.

  • Softball

    The use of break-away bases in softball can reduce risk of injuries, as can mouthguards and batting helmets. Technical references.

  • Football

    The use of mouthguards and helmets can reduce risk of injuries. Technical references.

Warming Up and Cooling Down

Done properly, beginning workouts with a warm-up and ending with a cool-down can improve performance as well as reduce later soreness and possibly reduce risk of certain types of injuries. Current Physical Activity GuidelinesExternal Link (page 62) ​​​recommend warming up with a lower intensity cardiovascular exercise (e.g., walking, jogging or biking), then transition to a few minutes of low intensity focus on any unique muscles or movements more specific to the exercise activity (e.g., dribbling a ball in soccer, lifting lighter weights). For specific warm-up drills, see FM-22 Holistic Health and FitnessExternal Link (page 6-5).​ Stretching and flexibility exercises are also important aspects of an exercise program as they can increase range of motion (ROM) and thus may enhance performance or reduce soreness, but should be done only after initial cardiovascular warm-ups or during the cool down phase of workout. Technical references


Weight Training

Weight training (WT) is increasing in popularity, especially as it is recognized that a balanced exercise regimen should include muscle strengthening activities. Muscle strengthening activities are a broad category of "resistance training" exercises which include use of a wide range of resistive loads, different movement velocities, and various training modalities such as free weights, weight machines, elastic bands, medicine balls and plyometrics to increase muscle strength, muscle endurance, and/or power. WT is a type of resistance training that relies on use of free weights and weight machines and various controlled explosive movements to increase strength and power. 

Current WT recommendations of the American College of Sports MedicineExternal Link​ for most healthy adults to increase strength/power include: 

  • 2-3 times per week for each major muscle group
  • >48 hours between sessions
  • Weights: 60-70% of maximum repeated lift capability (1RM) for novice to intermediate; 80% 1RM for experienced lifters
  • 8-12 repetitions; 2 sets, no more than 4 sets; 2-3 minutes rest of muscle groups between sets

Common injuries from WT include sprains and strains, especially to the shoulderExternal Link​ and back. To minimize risk of WT injury, gradually increase the amount of weights, don't overdo number of repetitions, and ensure adequate rest breaks during a session and days between sessions. Use of proper trainers to ensure good form is critical. Current evaluation is ongoing; technical references can be provided at request.


​Winter Sp​​orts​

Every year winter sports result in hundreds of thousands of acute trauma injuries as well as many deaths in the U.S. Injuries include fractures, sprains and traumatic brain injuries (TBI). Past study of fall-related injuries among Active Duty Army Soldiers has indicated that snowboarding and skiing, including during military-unit organized events, are the leading sports causing such injuries. Injuries also occur during ice skating, hockey, and snowmobiling.

Most common are 'mild' TBIs, also known as concussions. After a concussion victims typically feel dazed, confused or disoriented. They may even briefly experience a loss of consciousness. Symptoms such as dizziness and memory loss typically last less than 24 hours. Other symptoms such as visual acuity, neck pain, headaches, and sleep or mood disorders may last for days or weeks. According to the Department of Defense TBI Center for Excellence, concussions make up more than 80 % of all TBIs in the military population. Only about 8% of these are combat-related. Most service members who sustain a mild TBI return to full duty within 10 to 14 days through rest and a progressive return to activity process where individuals gradually return to normal activity using a standardized, staged-approach. During this time, they may need assistance adjusting to various physical, mental and emotional health consequences of their injuries.

For information about the most common winter sports injuries and ways to prevent them, read our 2022External Link and 2016External Link articles. Technical references


​​Gene​​ral Topics 

  • Mouthguards

    Mouthguards are required for many sports as a proven means to reduce the risk of serious orofacial and dental injuries. Read our Mouthguard Factsheet to help identify the best mouthguard to reduce these injuries. Technical references.

  • Rehabilitation and Recovery
  • The Human Performance Resource Optimization CenterExternal Link​ supports overall military human performance optimization as a DoD the educational arm of the Consortium for Health and Military Performance (CHAMP) at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences (USUHS). One of the topics it provides information on is the RX3: Rehab, Refit, Return to DutyExternal Link program. The RX3 program was developed by two sports medicine doctors and an exercise physiologist and is a resource for both providers and service members for basic injury prevention and rehabilitation methods, including includes videos and printable material. A relevant doctrine for additional guidance is TB MED 592External Link Prevention and Control of Musculoskeletal Injuries Associated with Physical Training. Technical references.​