A sports injury can set you back days, weeks, or months. Injuries and pain can be considered par for the course in an athlete’s career – but even ordinary gym-goers and weekend warriors get hurt and are often much more likely to than someone who trains regularly. A sports injury can be avoided through proper load management, adequate sleep and recovery, and personalized form, but even the most careful person can get hurt unexpectedly, regardless of who was at fault.
Treatment for a sports injury will always depend on the kind of injury you’re experiencing, and the severity of the injury. Your own subjective pain rating, the degree to which your mobility and movement are affected, and imaging technology are each helpful in determining the severity of a sports injury.
Common treatments will include temporary immobilization (to heal a fracture or ligament sprain), prescribed movement and rehabilitation, physical training, and painkilling medication. In some cases, more direct interventions, such as anti-inflammatory injections or temporary nerve blocks, can both help reduce pain and improve recovery. Very rarely does a sport-related injury require greater medical intervention, but that too could be an option. Severed or torn muscles, destroyed ligaments, or chronically inflamed scar tissue may require surgery to correct and heal.
Types of Sports Injuries
Sports injuries govern an incredibly broad spectrum of potential medical problems, from an overstretched ankle to a torn chest muscle, fractured rib, or a concussion. Most sports injuries occur in joints, especially the knees. Other popular contenders include shoulders, hips, feet/ankles, and the head. Among injury types, most sports injuries are muscle/tendon strains, ligament sprains, bone fractures, tendinopathy, and concussions.
The most important thing to do is not ignore the pain. Even if you haven’t experienced an “injury” yet, pain is a good indicator that something is wrong. It doesn’t mean you have to stop working out or training. But you should, at the very least, discuss this pain with your coach or instructor, and with a doctor – before something worse happens.
Among other things, proper load management, adjustments in technique and volume, and personalized form can help offset, reduce, or even eliminate pain, and lead to gains in every sense. It is simply not true that “no pain” means “no gain” – the setback from a serious injury can undo years of training and require serious efforts in rehabilitation to return to form, not to mention healthcare costs and the mental impact of an injury on performance and fitness.
Many injuries occur with no warning whatsoever. Sometimes, turning too fast or trying to catch something the wrong way can lead to a slipped disc, a twisted ankle, or a tear in the knee. Contact sports have especially high injury rates, but even solo sports can lead to injury over time. Identifying the type of injury you’ve suffered can help you set expectations for the treatment and healing processes.
Muscle and Tendon Injuries
The most common sports injuries are related to the muscles and tendons. Muscles are the contractile tissue we rely on for movement, whereas tendons connect our musculature to their respective bones. Tendons are incredibly powerful and can withstand an enormous amount of force given their relative size, but inactivity, overuse, or immediate physical trauma can still break and tear them down.
A strain in the muscle or tendon is physically represented by a tear in the tissue. The body can heal this tear over time, forming scar tissue and regaining strength and size through stimulus and recovery. If a tear is complete, however, the only way to reattach the tendon and muscle to each other is via surgery. Following surgery, a patient may need to go through several months of rehab to regain full function of the affected body part.
Ligaments are the connective tissue between different bony elements of a joint. The knees alone have four main ligaments, and shoulders are similarly complex, making these two of the most injury-prone joints in the human body. You also have finger and wrist ligaments, as well as anywhere else where bones connect.
Like muscles and tendons, inappropriate load, chronic overuse, and trauma (a bad fall, a twisted knee, etc.) can cause a ligament sprain. Even minor sprains (without major swelling) can take months to fully heal. Rehabilitative training and pain management are essential to strengthening the area and improving recovery.
Bone fractures can range from minor hairline fractures to full-blown compound fractures. Some fractures are more complicated than others, such as spiral fractures, or require delicate treatment, as when a bone is shattered and broken in five places, rather than a single clean break.
The body heals most fractures itself, but a bone must be set before the healing begins, otherwise, it is likely to be broken again, may not heal properly, and can lead to lifelong pain. Under certain circumstances, a broken bone may require additional fixation to heal safely.
In such cases, your doctor might recommend surgery to cut open the skin and utilize a nail, a rod, and/or a metal plate to fixate a broken bone. It can take six months for the bone to fully heal, depending on circumstances such as co-occurring health conditions (some conditions slow healing) and the severity of the break.
A different form of tendon injury is tendinopathy, in the sense that tendinopathy is often a chronic condition, meaning it is recurring and long-lasting. Tendinopathy may be the result of an old tendon injury that did not quite fully heal, causing recurring flare-ups of inflammation and pain.
Tendinopathy can also occur as a result of tendon degeneration following overuse. Strength athletes often experience tendinopathy in certain parts of their body during training, including the wrists, elbows, shoulders, hips, and knees.
In most cases, the best thing to do is be more conservative with loads and training volume and explore movement and training options that cause less or no pain. A physical therapist will assess a person’s training and offer corrective exercises, but a doctor or pain specialist’s opinion is needed if the pain doesn’t go away on its own.
Training and sports injuries can also lead to neuropathy, especially in the nerve roots surrounding the spine. These injuries may be caused by physical trauma or overuse (a slipped disc).
The irony is that nerve pain is often also improved via physical exercise. The difference is that someone may be more prone to an injury if they have been mostly sedentary as of late and that overdoing training (through volume, intensity, or both) can exacerbate existing pains, or create new ones.
Seek Professional Guidance
If you are experiencing a sports injury, your ideal option is not to seek out more bed rest and let it heal on its own. In the short term, immobilization and quick over-the-counter pain relief can reduce the severity of the pain and keep the injury site safe from renewed or continuing damage. But after the first few weeks, it becomes more and more essential to revisit movement and physical therapy to rehabilitate the injury.
Do not create your own injury rehab plan from the Internet. Even experienced physical therapists and doctors seek out other experts to help coach them through an injury.
Sports injuries left untreated can turn into a source of debilitating lifelong pain. Regardless of whether your pain is disabling or just a detriment to your quality of life, seek professional help to manage your pain and treat your injury properly.
To learn more about sports injury treatment options contact PMIR.