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What are the top 5 misdiagnosed injuries?

When treating an injury, it is vital that the complaint is diagnosed quickly and accurately, to ensure the person suffering with the injury can get the help they need as soon as possible. A misdiagnosis can delay appropriate treatment, while in some cases, it could even be dangerous, as the wrong complaint will be treated.

Read on to discover some of the most commonly misdiagnosed injuries:

1. Concussion

Concussion is a head injury, caused by an impact to the head that can be mild or severe. Head injuries are always very important to diagnose properly, as the brain could be affected. If a concussion injury is left untreated, it is a possibility that it can lead to a bleed on the brain, which can progress to bigger problems and possibly even permanent damage. It has been shown that people with concussion can be severely affected and their brain waves can look similar to those in a coma.

Signs of concussion include confusion, memory loss, headache, dizziness and tinnitus. You may also suffer from visionary changes such as blurriness, as well as nausea and vomiting. Later symptoms can include sleep disturbances and even personality changes and depression. The immediate treatment for concussion is to rest completely and certainly refrain from engaging in anything that might cause a knock to the head.


Concussion is diagnosed by a medical professional by a SCAT 3 test. SCAT stands for Sport Competition Anxiety Test and this test can determine how severe a concussion injury is. The test will consist of a few short tests which will be used to assess the sufferer, including their balance, reactions and memory. This test should be taken a number of times over a series of days, to make sure the person is recovering from their injury. Concussion is regularly misdiagnosed because it is not always clear if the person is suffering from a real concussion or just has a headache or other lesser complaint.

2. Scaphoid fractures of the wrist

A scaphoid fracture of the wrist is another type of injury that is often misdiagnosed. This injury can occur if someone falls over with an outstretched arm and breaks their fall with their hand. The resulting impact can cause a fracture of the scaphoid bone, which is a small bone and one of the eight metacarpals. This bone is located below the thumb and has its own blood supply, and a fracture in this area can result in a disruption to the blood supply. A scaphoid fracture must be diagnosed accurately for proper treatment to be followed, but this injury is often initially misdiagnosed as just a sprain.

The kidney shaped bone can have its blood supply severed by a fracture. This is why proper diagnosis is vital. The symptoms of this injury are numbness by the wrist on the side of the affected thumb, tenderness and swelling. You may also have problems grasping objects with that hand. This injury can often be misdiagnosed, even after an X-ray, because sometimes the fracture does not appear on the scans until a few weeks later. Doctors are advised to treat this type of injury as though it were definitely a scaphoid fracture, and repeat the scans after a couple of weeks to make sure.


A scaphoid fracture of the wrist can be treated by immobilising the joint, but if the bone is displaced, it will need surgery to set it back into the right position. The bone can then be pinned in the right place with screws. After a sufficient healing time, the patient needs to start range of motion exercises for the wrist, along with strengthening exercises and grips exercises.

3. Talus fracture

The talus is the ankle joint that connects the lower leg bones and the heel, and it enables smooth motion of the lower leg. Similar to the scaphoid fracture of the wrist, a talus fracture may sometimes be diagnosed as a sprain. Symptoms of the problem are similar to sprains and include swelling, pain, bruises and a problem trying to walk on the ankle or bear any weight on it. People can injure their talus by falling from a great height and landing on their feet, suffering a trauma to the lower leg, and by having riding or car accidents. After the injury occurs, immediate diagnosis is needed by X-ray, to see how severely the bone is fractured. The joint must be kept immobile and be wrapped up and put in ice. Medical treatment includes a number of weeks in a cast and if the bone is misaligned, it will need resetting and can be fixed into place with screws.


One important issue with talus fractures is that they can cause arthritis of the ankle joint later on. This is because the cartilage can be damaged by the fracture. Not only this, there is also a risk of avascular necrosis, due to the delicate blood supply around the bone. MRI scans might need to be done to determine the exact extent of the fracture, because if the blood supply is affected to the bone, then the joint may not heal properly and could die off. After treatment, the patient needs to start motion training to return to full range of movement, along with strengthening exercises. You should avoid putting too much weight on the joint area for 12 weeks, to ensure proper healing.

4. Rupture of the Achilles tendon

The Achilles tendon joins the calf muscle to the heel bone, and the position of this tendon makes it quite vulnerable to tears and damage. If the tendon gets ruptured, this means it is severed either completely or partially. If a severed Achilles is only mild, then it can often be misdiagnosed as a sprain or calf problem. A rupture need medical treatment and it will never heal fully on its own. A classic sign of the ruptured tendon is a popping sound as the tendon breaks, along with a severe pain. One way to avoid ruptures is to maintain strong calves, as they can help support the tendon, which itself is not very flexible. If you have an Achilles rupture, you will not be able to stand on tip toes and walking up and downstairs will be very difficult. You will also have moderate swelling.

Image of a leg in a cast next to a set of crutches

To heal an Achilles tear or rupture, you need up to 12 weeks wearing a cast, and without putting weight on the area. Surgery is the preferred treatment, as relapse is much less likely than after non-surgical treatments. While the tendon heals, it is normal to wear a heel lift for about 6 months, as the tendon will shorten temporarily as it repairs itself. Once the cast has been removed, you should begin flexibility and strengthening exercises to regain the usual movement in the lower leg.

5. Stress fractures

Stress fractures can often be misdiagnosed as tendonitis, shin splints or sprains, as the pain is often vague and general, rather than sharp and directed. Stress fractures occur when the muscle has been over-trained and is tired, and stops being able to absorb the stress or impact and instead transfers the impact to the bone. This happens over a period of training too hard, and is a result of regular sustained pressure. This can often happen with runners who have increased their mileage or speed too much too soon, and the body simply cannot cope. It is also common with sports that require much jumping on hard surfaces and repeated, high stress movements, especially without appropriately supportive footwear. Women can be at greater risk of stress fractures, due to the increased risk of osteoporosis, or thinning of the bones.

Symptoms are a generalised ache in the area of injury or a tenderness which can be mistaken for sprains or shin splints, if the area is in the lower front leg, as is often the case with runners. An x-ray may not reveal the full extent of a fracture, so an MRI or bone scan is recommended, if in doubt. It is important to tell the doctor your training history, as sports people can easily get a stress fracture, but might not realise it. The main treatment for stress fracture is total rest of the affected area. This means no high impact exercise. Replacing running or tennis or another high impact sport with a low impact sport, such as swimming or cycling, for a number of weeks can give the affected limb time to heal. If you try to continue your normal routine with a stress fracture, you will make it worse, causing a larger fracture and possibly a chronic condition that will never heal.

X-ray showing a broken wrist

To reduce your risk of having a stress fracture, only ever increase running mileage by 10% over one week. You should always eat well, including plenty of calcium and iron, especially women. Footwear should be supportive and if you notice any pain or swelling, you should stop your sport immediately and rest until it heals.