This is the time of year we all enjoy; however, in taking advantage of the warmer weather by becoming more active— particularly with exercise and sports— injuries can occur. Common injuries include sprains and strains, knee and ankle injuries, swollen muscles, fractures and dislocations.
Injuries can be divided into acute and chronic. Signs of an acute injury include extreme weakness, difficulty moving a joint, severe point tenderness, swelling, difficulty placing weight on a leg, and sudden sharp pain. A chronic injury occurs when playing a sport or exercising for a long time. Some of the signs of a chronic injury include swelling, pain with exercise or play, and/or a dull ache when at rest.
Acute injuries can progress to chronic injuries very easily if not tended to right away. This is especially true for individuals who play sports all year. The absolute best advice is prevention. The old saying that “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” from Benjamin Franklin is very relevant here.
How Best to Prevent an Injury
- Rest. Many athletes feel that the more they train, the better they will be. This is a misconception. The body needs breaks so that muscles and connective tissue can repair themselves. This naturally leads to the next tip on preventing injury.
- Avoid playing with pain or when fatigued. Pain is an indicator that something is wrong and being fatigued can lead to a careless injury.
- Warm up. It is a tired saying but very true. Muscles are less susceptible to injury when warmed up. Warming up and stretching is especially important for individuals with prior injuries, as they have a higher chance of developing chronic problems.
- Participate in a conditioning program to build endurance and muscle strength. Programs for avoiding ligament injury, in particular the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), have been developed and have good success at decreasing the occurrence of an ACL injury.
- Stay hydrated. Water works best. Do not believe the commercials that say you need the sugary sports drinks with vitamins A, B and C when exercising. Water is much more easily absorbed.
Proper equipment is also necessary when trying to prevent injuries. This includes the correct footwear and appropriate clothing. Proper joint support for people who have had a prior injury has been shown to make them more aware of their body in space and help avoid reinjuring the affected joint.
Illness and injury also can happen when the body cannot dissipate heat. Heat illness can occur at any time when we are active. Our bodies produce 15 to 20 times more heat when exercising than at rest, so avoiding or at least modifying sports or exercise regimens on hot and humid days is wise.
Even if you do everything right, an injury still is possible. So what is the next step? Consider seeing a doctor when the injury causes severe pain, swelling, or numbness or if the joint feels unstable or you can’t put weight on the area. If you don’t have any of these signs, treat yourself at home with RICE:
R – Rest. Sit back, relax and give the injured joint some time off.
I – Ice. Put an icepack on the injured joint for 20 minutes at a time.
C – Compression. Apply even pressure on the area to help reduce swelling.
E – Elevation. Raise the injured area above the heart to help reduce swelling.
Use RICE immediately following an injury. Doctors also often suggest over the counter non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) such as aspirin or ibuprofen to reduce pain and swelling. If the discomfort does not resolve after a short while, contacting an expert in rehabilitation, such as an athletic trainer or physical therapist, definitely can expedite your recovery.
When recovering, the phrase “no pain, no gain” is not appropriate. Believe it or not, pain is our friend. It tells us something is wrong. A little prevention goes a long way in reducing an injury.
Chuck Walker, MSPT, is the director of physical therapy at Peak Physical Therapy in Washingtonville. He has over 20 years of experience in rehabilitating people with orthopedic and sports injuries. For more information, call 496- 1616 or visit PeakPT.com.