That the fittest and most athletic people are also often the most injured and infirm of people. Athletes injure themselves so often precisely because they push so hard. For example at the time of this article I am recovering from shattering my collarbone while racing Ironman 70.3 Eagleman. I covered home treatments for a lot of common injuries, but sometimes you need a professional, no ifs ands or buts about it. Knowing where to start can be a good way to navigate what the recommended treatment is for you.
What is an Athletic / Sports Injury?
Athletic or sports injuries are injuries that typically occur whilst a person participates in organized sports, competitions, training sessions, or organized fitness activities. There are two types of these injuries. The first type is an acute traumatic injury. These usually result from a single traumatic experience to the body. The second type is an overuse or chronic injury. These happen over a period of time. Repetitive training or play is what causes these injuries, such as running, overhand throwing, or serving a ball in tennis.Sprain and strain of the joint and surrounded tissue, or other typical inflammatory response, are the most common sports-related injuries. The most obvious and first response is referred to as R.I.C.E (Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation) treatment (or ‘P.R.I.C.E’ as per the UK’s National Health Service (NHS), with the ‘P’ being for Protection, i.e. to protect the affected area with, for example, a support.But sometimes more is needed than just ice pads and keeping an injured limb raised. Here then are some of the leading professional treatments for athletic injuries (also referred to here as sports injuries):
After a workout, too much lactic acid build-up can cause muscles to function poorly and even ‘seize up’. An ice bath will immediately reduce swelling whilst flushing lactic acid out of the body. Once a person gets out of the bath, muscle tissue can warm up again, and so cause oxygenated blood to help muscles recover.Professional athletes often get to use high-end ice baths which allow for a digitally controlled temperature in the bath. They have gained significant visibility thanks to successful marathoners such as Paula Radcliffe and Meb Keflezighi who swear by ice cold therapy in combatting the microtrauma (small tears) in muscle fibers due to intense or repetitive exercise.However, there are those who doubt the efficacy of ice baths for athletic injuries. The BBC reported on the findings of Jonathan Peake from Queensland University of Technology in Australia, who found that ice baths might be useful for a quick recovery between events during a competition, but are not that effective for longer-term muscle healing.
During the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro the UK’s Independent newspaper asked the question: “Why do some of the world’s top athletes look as though they’ve been on the receiving end of a brutal paintball firing squad?” Elite athletes such as swimmer Michael and gymnast Alex Naddour had visible circular welts all over their bodies. What the hell were they?!The big blotches on their skin were from cupping. This traditional Chinese practice (known as jiaofa) involves hot suction cups applied to the skin for several minutes, leaving large circular marks on the skin which can take over two weeks to fade away. Also known as myofascial decompression, we can trace the origins of cupping to as far back as Egyptian hieroglyphic writing around 1500 B.C.The principal benefits appear to be that it speeds up muscular and soft tissue recovery after injury and strain. Gymnast Naddour is a true believer. He enthused to USA Today that cupping “provides relief from the soreness and pounding that come from gymnastics” and that, in his opinion, “It's been better than any money I've spent on anything else.”
Zero Gravity Treadmills
A NASA engineer developed a low-gravity treadmill design for back and lower-body injury rehabilitation in 2005. The treadmill works by applying air pressure to a patient’s lower body in order to unload weight – it thereby reduces the stress placed on the lower body during rehabilitation. People consider these treadmills especially effective for musculoskeletal injury prevention and rehabilitationSupporters and users contend that the antigravity treadmill is as comfortable as hydrotherapy (water training) but offers better support of the lower limbs during their free-swing phase, since they swing more naturally than they would in water. A person placing a small load on the stress fracture during healing should speed up recovery. It also allows a person to continue with some cardiovascular activity.Entities as diverse as hospitals, professional sports teams, physical-therapy clinics, the U.S. military, and NASA all use anti-gravity treadmills. For example, injured veterans, most of whom suffered limb damage from roadside and other bombs whilst on tour, have been successfully using these treadmills at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.
Aquatherapy is one of the oldest forms of therapeutic treatment. People have bathed in hot mineral springs as a cure for injury dating back to the Ancient Greeks. The Romans, fanatical about bathing generally, were the first to document the use of water to treat orthopaedic injuries. Today, hydrotherapy can be a treadmill in a pool or a specially designed treadmill tank.Adherents believe that aquatic therapy speeds up the healing process by reducing compression on irritable, swollen joints. Physical therapist Todd Lewarchick of the Regional Clinical Rehabilitation Manager at Cleveland Clinic’s Lorain Institute states that other hydrotherapy exercises that can help patients include squatting, sit-to-stand exercises, and going up and down the pool steps. Dr. Naresh Rao was the Olympic Team USA Water Polo Physician for the 2016 Summer Games and he told CBS News that, “We’ve been using hydrotherapy to help decrease any sort of gravity that can affect joint function. I personally prescribe it for knee issues and low back issues.” Rao also sees it as a very good all-around aerobic conditioner for athletes.
Acupuncture is an alternative medicine and has been an integral part of traditional Chinese medicine for centuries. Practitioners place thin, sharp needles at specific points along the skin to impact the nerves and change the flow of energy in the body as well as promote increased blood flow – all of which should stimulate healing. Acupuncture also increases white blood cell and serotonin levels, known to boost weak immune systems and improve a person’s feeling of well-being. The piercing of acupuncture needles treats the deeper muscle tissue, which is the source of most injury-related pain. Number and type of treatments depend very much on the severity of an athlete’s injury.Various studies have shown that acupuncture has a very successful record with regard to sports injuries. That explains why many professional sports teams have acupuncturists as part of their therapeutic staff. Bell & Falconi found in their 2016 study that the successful current use of acupuncture in the US military should correlate as effectively for injuries in an athletic environment.
Who doesn’t love a great massage, especially when injured, right? It’s no surprise that people have been using massage in the treatment of illness injury for thousands of years, with Chinese records dating back to 2500 BC describing the use of massage for various medical purposes. Today, massage is an especially effective therapy in the treatment of sports-related musculoskeletal injuries.Massage can be effective for releasing and reducing tension in the muscles and improving circulation. Massage also stimulates or suppresses nerve activity. Specialists in sports medicine often make use of massage as a complementary means of aiding an athlete's recovery, be it from intense exercise or as a treatment option when performing clinical rehabilitation. However, researcher Jason Brummitt did caution in a 2008 study that there is no real evidence that massage significantly contributes to the reduction of pain from sports injuries. Massage must be avoided if an athlete is suffering from an illness or infection or has a serious health condition such as cancer or haemophilia.
Treatments At Home
Not all of us are professional athletes that have access to the types of treatments, some of them expensive and technically advanced, outlined above. However, even keeping fit can result in you having injuries that can deflate your fitness regime. Fear not – here are three easy, inexpensive treatments you can do at home. And you better believe professional athletes use them too…The Stick is the original hand-held massage tool – and remains the best-selling on the market. Its immense success since its release in 1988 has been due to its ease of use together with almost instantaneous relief for a user. Professional sports teams and Olympians (I told you so!) have used the award-winning Stick. Use The Stick for trigger point muscle therapy in your daily routine.The Rollga is a contoured and curved roller that glides effortlessly over the tender or sore parts of your body. By using it, you avoid pinching or overly compressing your nerves and tissues - precisely because of its shaping. Physical therapists, physicians, and chiropractors use the Rollga for specific therapeutic treatments to avoid excessive tissue manipulation – and so should you.A Cryocup is a nifty ice massage device in the form of a cup, although a Dixie cup can come close in achieving the same effect if needed! The Cryocup allows for a full range of controlled massage pressure, thanks to its shape and easy grip. Just fill the cup with water, freeze, and its ready for you to use for ice massage, muscular stimulation, or as a cooling splint.An athletic injury is never a good thing. But it needs to be addressed – and effectively. As you can see, there are plenty of excellent treatments out there for your sports-related injury, whether it is high tech intervention or simple, on-the-go home remedy.