How are sports injuries treated?
Although using the RICE technique can be helpful for any sports injury, RICE is often just a starting point. Here are some other treatments your doctor or other health care provider may administer, recommend, or prescribe to help your injury heal.
Nonsteroidal Anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAID)
The moment you are injured, chemicals are released from damaged tissue cells. This triggers the first stage of healing: inflammation. Inflammation causes tissues to become swollen, tender, and painful. Although inflammation is needed for healing, it can actually slow the healing process if left unchecked.
To reduce inflammation and pain, doctors and other health care providers often recommend taking an over-the-counter (OTC) nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) such as aspirin, ibuprofen (Advil), or naproxen sodium (Aleve). For more severe pain and inflammation, doctors may prescribe one of several dozen NSAIDs available in prescription strength.
Though not an NSAID, another commonly used OTC medication, acetaminophen (Tylenol), may relieve pain. It has no effect on inflammation, however.
Immobilization is a common treatment for sports injuries that may be done immediately by a trainer or paramedic. Immobilization involves reducing movement in the area to prevent further damage. Immobilization reduces pain, swelling, and muscle spasm and helps the healing process begin. Following are some devices used for immobilization:
Slings, to immobilize the upper body, including the arms and shoulders.
Splints and casts, to support and protect injured bones and soft tissue. Casts can be made from plaster or fiberglass. Splints can be custom made or ready made. Standard splints come in a variety of shapes and sizes and have Velcro straps that make them easy to put on and take off or adjust. Splints generally offer less support and protection than a cast, and therefore may not always be a treatment option.
In some cases, surgery is needed to repair torn connective tissues or to realign bones with compound fractures. The most commonly used technique for treatment of sports injuries is Arthroscopy, which is a keyhole surgery performed using a tiny camera and micro instruments.
The vast majority of sports injuries, however, do not require surgery.
A key part of rehabilitation from sports injuries is a graduated exercise programme designed to return the injured body part to a normal level of function.
With most injuries, early mobilization, getting the part moving as soon as possible, will speed healing.
As damaged tissue heals, scar tissue forms, which shrinks and brings torn or separated tissues back together. As a result, the injury site becomes tight or stiff, and damaged tissues are at risk of re-injury. That’s why stretching and strengthening exercises are so important. You should continue to stretch the muscles daily and as the first part of your warm-up before exercising.
Don’t resume your sport until you are sure you can stretch the injured tissues without any pain, swelling, or restricted movement, and monitor any other symptoms. When you do return to your sport, start slowly and gradually build up to full participation.
Other therapies commonly used in rehabilitating sports injuries include:
Electro stimulation: Mild electrical current provides pain relief by preventing nerve cells from sending pain impulses to the brain.
Cold/Ice therapy: Ice packs reduce inflammation by constricting blood vessels and limiting blood flow to the injured tissues. It is generally used for only the first 48 hours after injury.
Heat therapy: Heat, in the form of hot compresses, heat lamps, or heating pads, causes the blood vessels to dilate and increase blood flow to the injury site. Increased blood flow aids the healing and also helps to reduce pain. It should not be applied within the first 48 hours after an injury.
Ultrasound: High-frequency sound waves produce deep heat that is applied directly to an injured area. Ultrasound stimulates blood flow to promote healing.
Massage: Manual pressing, rubbing, and manipulation soothe tense muscles and increase blood flow to the injury site.
Most of these therapies are administered or supervised by a licensed health care professional.
What can be done to prevent sports injuries?
- Anyone who exercises is potentially at risk for a sports injury and should follow the given instructions.
- Be in proper condition to play the sport. Get a preseason physical exam.
- Follow the rules of the game. Learn to do your sport right. Using proper form can reduce your risk of “overuse” injuries such as tendinitis and stress fractures.
- Wear appropriate protective gear. This may mean knee or wrist pads or a helmet.
- Know how to use athletic equipment.
- Avoid playing when very tired or in pain.
Make warm-ups part of your routine. Warm-up exercises, such as stretching or light jogging, can help minimize the chances of muscle strain or other soft tissue injury. They also make the body’s tissues warmer and more flexible. Stretch the Achilles tendon, hamstring, and quadriceps areas and hold the positions.
Cool down exercises loosen the muscles that have tightened during exercise. For example, after a race, walk or walk/jog for five minutes so your pulse comes down gradually.
Use the softest exercise surface available, and avoid running on hard surfaces like asphalt and concrete. Run on flat surfaces. Running uphill may increase the stress on the Achilles tendon and the leg itself.
Don’t be a “weekend warrior,” packing a week’s worth of activity into a day or two. Try to maintain a moderate level of activity throughout the week.
Accept your body’s limits. You may not be able to perform at the same level you did 10 or 20 years ago. Modify activities as necessary.
Increase your exercise level gradually.
Wear properly fitting shoes that provide shock absorption and stability.
Strive for a total body workout of cardiovascular, strength training, and flexibility exercises. Cross-training reduces injury while promoting total fitness.