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“Sports injury” is a broad term used for any kind of physical injury that occurs either while playing sports or during a workout. One of our specialties at CORE Medical & Wellness is the treatment of these injuries, using advanced technology and cutting-edge techniques to alleviate pain and improve patients’ quality of life. Nearly everyone who participates in physical activity gets a sports injury at some point in their lives. Below, we’ll share the basics of sports injuries and how to know when it’s time to seek treatment.
Types of Sports Injuries
We divide sports injuries into two types: acute and chronic. An acute sports injury is something that happens suddenly. A blow to the head, a thrown out back, a fall that results in a broken bone, or a twist that sprains an ankle are all types of acute sports injuries.
Chronic sports injuries are the result of repetitive movement. Tennis elbow is a good example; it’s not the result of a sudden twist or fall, but instead comes about from overuse. Tissues become damaged when the same types of movements are done again and again without adequate rest and recovery.
Common Sports Injuries
Some of the most common sports injuries we see in our clinic include:
- Patellofemoral Syndrome – This type of knee injury can either be acute when it results from a slip or fall, or chronic if it’s the result of muscle imbalance.
- Tennis Elbow – Sometimes also referred to as golf elbow, you actually don’t have to play either of these sports to get this type of injury. It occurs as a result of activities that involve gripping some kind of implement.
- Hamstring Strain – This injury is self-explanatory; the hamstring, located on the back of the thigh, is especially susceptible to being pulled. Sufficient stretching before exercise can prevent this from occurring.
- Sciatica – Usually caused by a pinched nerve or bulging disk in the back, sciatica can be extremely bothersome, causing pain, numbness, tingling, and burning that starts in the back and continues all the way down to the foot.
- Shin Splints – Shin splints are most common in runners, resulting in pain in the lower leg bone.
- Concussion – This acute sports injury occurs when a blow to the head causes the brain to be shaken. If you sustain a concussion, you should seek medical attention right away; do not attempt to treat it at home.
- ACL Injuries – These include ACL tears or strains. The ACL is a ligament that stabilizes the knee, so when it’s injured, everyday activities may prove to be difficult or even impossible without treatment.
- Stress Fractures – These occur in weight-bearing areas of the body, like heels and wrists. Without proper treatment, these injuries can lead to lifelong pain and limited movement.
- Other Types of Strain – Some muscles are simply more prone to being pulled than others. Hip flexor strain, groin pulls, and shoulder strain are all common sports injuries.
Home Treatment For Sports Injuries
Use common sense when it comes to home treatment for sports injuries. Broken bones and concussions should never be treated at home. More minor injuries, such as strains, respond well to treatment at home and rarely need medical attention.
Sports injuries are treated with the RICE protocol. This stands for:
- Rest – When you lead a busy life, this can be difficult, but it’s important to take it easy and rest the injured area. If you can’t do that, at the very least don’t return to the activity that caused the injury until it has resolved.
- Ice – Cold therapy is one of the best home treatments for sports injuries, as it reduces inflammation, which causes pain.
- Compression – Put pressure on the injury; a common way to do this is with a brace or by wrapping it.
- Elevation – If possible, raise the injured area above the heart. This limits blood flow to the area, another way to help control swelling.
RICE is the standard, but some injuries, particularly sore muscles and back pain, may also respond to treatment with heat or a combination of hot and cold therapy.
Signs You Need Professional Treatment
Home treatment is the first line of defense, but sometimes it’s not enough. Here’s how to know when it’s time to consult with a sports medicine specialist:
Most sports injuries involve some kind of pain, but if you treat the injury at home using the RICE protocol and the pain is either the same or worse after 48 hours, it’s time to make an appointment with the doctor to have the injury evaluated. Minor injuries should respond well to rest and cold therapy, but if your injury does not get better with these, it’s a sign that it could be serious.
Tenderness and Swelling
Is the area of the injury swollen? In some cases, it’s visually apparent when an area is swollen, but other times swelling is indicated by joint stiffness or a clicking sound upon bending. If you apply pressure to the injured area and it feels tender even after using the RICE protocol for a few days, this is another sign that treatment is needed.
Limited Range of Motion
If you’re unable to move the injured area as you normally would even after home care, it’s a sign that internal swelling is persisting. You may be physically unable to move or bend the injured joint, or you may be able to move them, but not without significant pain. If the injury is in a leg or arm, you can test range of motion by seeing if the injured joint is able to move as fully as the same one in the uninjured limb.
Tingling, Burning, and Numbness
These all indicate nerve compression or injury. If you experience tingling, burning, or numbness in the area surrounding your injury even after taking the time to rest, it’s a sign that you should contact your doctor as soon as possible for an exam.
If your injury does respond to the RICE protocol, but you find that the injury continues to re-occur over a short amount of time, it’s a good idea to consult with a doctor or physical therapist. This is a sign that intervention is needed; a medical professional can help you by showing you stretches and exercises that can be performed to strengthen the injured area and prevent re-injuries from occurring.
Inability to Return to Normal Activities
Ideally, with treatment––specifically, adequate rest and recovery––you’ll be able to go back to the sport or exercise that caused the injury in the first place. If pain persists and you’re unable to return to this or other activities, it’s important to have your injury evaluated by a professional. While in most cases, you should be able to return to your normal activities at some point, there are some more serious sports injuries that often require patients to find alternate forms of exercise to stay fit and active.
Impact on Your Daily Life
This is perhaps the most important signal that it is time to seek treatment from a sports medicine specialist or physical therapist. Ask yourself:
- Are you unable to walk without pain or discomfort?
- Can you perform your normal tasks at work?
- Is it difficult for you to do chores around the house?
- If you have kids, do you feel that it’s difficult to keep up with them after your injury?
- Does sitting, standing, or sustaining any other position for a period of time cause you pain?
- Can you walk through a large store? Take a stroll around the block? Stand in the kitchen for an hour to prepare a meal? Are any other normal daily activities difficult for you since you sustained your injury?
Don’t underestimate your gut feelings either. If you just can’t shake that feeling that your injury is serious, or that something just isn’t right, make an appointment to see a sports medicine specialist. Even if it turns out that your injury was minor, you’ll appreciate having the peace of mind knowing that. Furthermore, seeing a specialist can help give you ideas for home treatment beyond the RICE protocol.
CORE Medical & Wellness specializes in the non-surgical treatment of sports injuries. We take a unique approach that makes us leaders in the field of sports medicine. Rather than turning to orthopedic surgery for treating sports injuries, we instead use advanced regenerative medicine techniques that amplify the body’s natural healing process. This protocol helps your body heal itself. Some of the sports injury treatments offered by our practice include: