Every year over 28 million Americans injure their bones, joints, ligaments and tendons. Millions of these injuries are caused by athletes participating in activities they love and by ignoring their pain until they have no other choice but to stop their athletic activities and often much of their ability to move and function.
There are three primary types of athletic pain and injury.
Acute: Pain from a sudden or unexpected injury. The feeling you get when you sprain your wrist, unexpectedly blow out your knee or twist your ankle.
Nagging: Acute injuries that don’t heal properly, or that you don’t allow to heal properly! AND/OR pain from overuse, structural imbalance (tight hamstrings or a weak core resulting in back pain) or from bad athletic form or technique.
Chronic: Acute injuries that became nagging injuries due to ignoring initial injury and pain, that last 6 months or longer.
Dr. Christopher Steacy, a physical therapist with Sport & Spine Rehab advises, “Pain must be your guide, it may sound obvious, but people should only do those activities that don’t cause them pain and keep them on a path towards reaching their fitness goals. At the same time, the absence of pain isn’t true health. A sedentary person may have no pain, but are they healthy?”
“The focus is to get patient/athletes to be able to do what they want to do, in a pain free state, better than they did before, so that pain related issues don’t recur,” Dr. Steacy explained. “Your plantar fasciitis is better, but let’s address core stability or running mechanics and improve your structure and potential physical imbalances so the overall problem doesn’t come back, and so you won’t get a flare up of plantar fascia again. ”
One of the primary tools that Dr. Steacy uses in his practice is Functional Movement Screening (FMS). FMS is a program that systematically uses movement patterns to diagnose muscular or structural imbalances and uses corrective exercises to fix those problems.
The first consideration for any active person is to determine “What problems can I train through and which can I ignore?” Dr. Steacy says this is often a very tough determination for many people to figure out for themselves. The first questions people need to ask themselves are: ‘Is there a history of a specific pain? What is the intensity of the pain and what activities set it off?” The sooner that you respond to any pain that is not resolving itself the better off you will be.
He notes that for pain lasting more than 8 days it will take 1.5 times the duration of the time injured to properly heal. If there is pain when doing the activity, the issue of that pain must be addressed. If there is pain after the activity, you have to figure out if it is only that activity that’s causing the pain and what the activities are that are setting off the pain your body is experiencing.
Where FMS comes into play is after the rehabilitation process is complete and before a person resumes their training program. From physical therapy the pain may be removed but the body’s functional pattern may not be correct. If a person used to get pain when they did a squat, now the pain is gone, but the knee caves in when they squat that movement pattern needs to be fixed so that the pain or injury won’t happen again. The same considerations apply to a non-athlete who has pain when they sit. Those issues need to be fixed so that that person can function.
For the recovering athlete returning to their training, the objective is to set adjusted goals with gradually increasing intensity.
From his experience recovering from injury and as a trainer to many successful athletes, here are Atlas Fitness owner, and trainer, Tim Bruffy’s key takeaways about injury prevention and recovery.
Before an injury:
- The best way to prevent or rehabilitate an injury is to not to allow yourself to be injured in the first place.
- Learn about your body. Work with coaches and trainers to identify structural or postural imbalance, form deficiencies in your movement and do corrective exercise to address these elements in your body’s performance.
- Eat properly, drink plenty of water, and get adequate sleep.
- Be in touch with your body. Learn the difference between muscle fatigue and the onset of potential injury.
After an injury:
- Work with healthcare professional, don’t “wing it” for your recovery all by yourself.
- Follow the instructions of your care provider.
- Be consistent in your follow-up with your recovery plan.
- Create and follow incremental goal setting techniques.
- Don’t rush back to your activities too quickly and risk re-injury.
- Continue to exercise with exercises that are allowable as part of your recovery.
- Most importantly, remember! There will be setbacks as you work through your recovery process. Don’t get too stressed about this. Know that over time you will get stronger, your condition will improve.