What should I do if I have a sports injury?
Continuing to exercise while you're injured may cause further damage and make your recovery time even longer.
You should also consider seeking medical advice. Minor injuries may sometimes be treated at home. However, you need to be sure you know what's wrong; otherwise, you may simply repeat the problem the next time you exercise.
- If pain prevents you from resuming sport then consider seeking medical advice.
- If pain prevents you from resuming your normal day-to-day activities then seeking medical advice is recommended.
For more severe injuries such as broken bones (fractures), dislocations, or head injury, you should seek urgent medical help.
How should sports injuries in children be treated?
Children usually heal fast and without any problem, but they may need some guidance on rest and training. Some children are involved in very competitive sport and train very hard and long to a very high standard. This is particularly true of swimming, gymnastics and dancing. Children are still growing and their bodies are still changing, so they are at particular risk of overuse injury.
It's very important that children don't overtrain. If they do develop symptoms they should see someone other than their coach (especially if the coach is a parent). This is just to have a second opinion to make sure that the training isn't too much.
How should I treat overuse sports injuries?
You can treat most minor sports injuries yourself by resting the affected body part and using over-the-counter painkillers for pain relief. However, overuse injuries are a bit different.
If you have an overuse injury this may mean that you have been unconsciously overstraining or overusing a joint, or tendon, or group of muscles for a long time. Correcting this so that you can continue to exercise needs careful assessment and advice. If you don't do this then the moment you start exercising the injury is likely to return and may even become worse. It may be, for example, that you need to exercise particular muscle groups to strengthen them, so that your movements are properly balanced. This will help you to avoid putting extra strain on some areas.
Advice from a sports physician or a physiotherapist with an interest in sports medicine can be very useful. It can help you to:
- Make sure that you can exercise in the future without your injury returning.
What is active rehabilitation?
Active rehabilitation is sometimes called therapeutic exercise. It is a tailored programme which uses a variety of methods including rest, exercise and physiotherapy to speed up the return to full function and to enable sportspeople and athletes not to lose fitness whilst resting the injured part. It also educates the athlete in technique and posture for the sport, so that any mistakes which contributed to the injury are not repeated. The aims of active rehabilitation are:
- Resolving pain and inflammation.
- Getting back your full range of motion.
- Getting back your strength.
- Improving your balance and co-ordination.
- Improving your technique in your particular sport.
Typically a physiotherapist-led active rehabilitation programme would begin with an assessment of your strength, flexibility and, of course, the injury and how it happened. The programme might then involve core strengthening, postural re-education, stretching, flexibility and functional physiotherapy to correct your technique. Massage, ultrasound and other techniques may also be employed.
Sportsmen and sportswomen will work very hard to recover quickly and are often impatient. Impatience is the enemy of good recovery, as you can try to do to much too fast. It's important to take advice and follow it. Different people recover at different rates but, generally, healing is slower with older age.
How should I treat sudden sports injuries?
When you have JUST injured yourself then remember RICE. RICE stands for:
It is sometimes extended to PRICER, in which:
- P stands for protection, which may mean preventing movement of (immobilising), or adding padding to, the injured part.
- R stands for rehabilitation.
Please bear in mind that it used to be common advice to put an ice-pack on something that was injured. In fact, scientists haven't managed to prove that ice-packs make much difference and in some cases the cold ice can actually delay healing. So for now the evidence-base for ice-packs in injury should be thought of as equivocal.
If a part is injured it will need to be rested. However, if you are a keen sportsperson, telling you to rest is not always realistic. If you have worked to get fit, you probably want to keep your fitness level up, so complete rest is not always the best answer. Instead you may need advice from a doctor, physiotherapist or sports injury clinic. They will provide advice on how to use exercise and movement to speed healing whilst continuing to exercise. This is called active rehabilitation.
Further reading and references
Human Kinetics: Understanding Rehabilitation; humankinetics.com, October 2014
Sports Injury Rehabilitation Exercises; Sportsinjuryclinic.net, Oct 2014
Bachmann LM, Kolb E, Koller MT, et al; Accuracy of Ottawa ankle rules to exclude fractures of the ankle and mid-foot: systematic review. BMJ. 2003 Feb 22326(7386):417.
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