Tips for dealing with common sports injuries

Credit: Matthew Stockman/Allsport

Do you like to work out, but worry sometimes that you might overdo it?

Even if you have perfect form, there is no guarantee you're not going to get injured in the process. And if you're exercising incorrectly, there is a pretty good chance you will get injured.

Below, an NHL athletic trainer and a sports medicine orthopedic surgeon will tell you what to do if you do get an injury while working out.

Q: What are some common injuries that can come from working out?
A: Jonathan Glashow, MD: Knee pain can be brought on after a leg-workout exercise. And you know you have trouble when the knee creaks and is painful when going downstairs or when standing up after sitting for any extended period of time.

Muscle strains are also a very common injury when weight training or riding a bike. You overload the muscle by using improper form or technique. That's when you commonly hear the pop sound, or you feel something that tears in the muscle. Later on, you'll notice some swelling or maybe some change in color of the area.

What's the difference between a sprain and a strain?
J.G.: It's really just medical terminology. We like to keep things in little boxes to make us feel better. A sprain generally refers to a stretched ligament, whereas a strain refers to a stretched muscle. We grade them by their severity.

For instance, a Grade 1 sprain of the ligament is where the fibers are stretched, but not beyond their elastic length. In other words, they stretch and go back. Grade 2 is a partial tear. In other words, the ligament is partially disrupted, but still intact. A Grade 3 sprain is a complete disruption of that ligament.

Are sprains generally harder to heal from than a strain?
J.G.: Some sprains never heal without surgery, and therefore never heal. Most strains of a muscle refer to a partial tear of a muscle. Muscle by definition has a better blood supply and healing ability than a nonvascular tissue or less vascular tissue like a ligament.

So in general, a muscle has more ability to heal, therefore, a strain is more easily healed. But you could have a sprain that gets better much more quickly than a very significant muscle strain, like a bad hamstring or Achilles or calf strain. Sometimes severe strains take a long time to heal.

What's the difference between strains or sprains and tendonitis?
Jim Ramsay: Muscle strains and sprains are what we call acute injuries. Basically, it's an injury that occurs right away. There is definitely a trauma that has damaged that muscle. On the other hand, tendonitis comes on more gradually. It's an overuse type of injury where there is some inflammation. It comes from microtrauma small little traumas that occur at the area where the tendon inserts on the bone or some point along it. Over time, those traumas just accumulate and cause a chronic inflammation of that tendon.

What should you do if you suffer one of these injuries?
J.G.: There is a slight danger in oversimplifying things, but there are some basic rules that one can adhere to and still be safe. At any time a muscle or joint is injured or inflamed, we refer to this acronym: PRICE (Protect, Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation).

For example, if your knee gives out during weight-lifting, or on the basketball court, you want to protect the knee by splinting it in a comfortable position and putting a wrap around it so that it can't move. You want to rest it, so you don't want to move it around.

You should also put it on ice. Applying ice or cold vasoconstricts, or narrows, blood vessels, thereby limiting the amount of blood that comes through the blood vessels and reducing the body's inflammatory response. It also has ancillary effects since being cold is almost like an anesthetic. You try to use ice for 24 hours to 72 hours, depending on the severity of the injury.

And compress the area keep it tight so it doesn't swell. Finally, E is for elevation. Keep the affected area higher than the heart, so that swelling goes down.

When do you use heat instead of ice?
J.R.: I try to emphasize what I call the "touch method." Ice is best for the initial 24-hour period after the incident, and should be used as often as possible, 10 to 15 minutes every hour is optimal. After the initial 24-hour period of icing, touch the injured area and compare it to a non-injured side in terms of temperature.

If your bad side is normal body temperature, then you know that the inflammation has settled down and you can add heat to the area. But if that area of injury is still warm, then continue with the ice component for another 24 hours, before reassessing.

Applying heat will help to bring in blood to that area, containing healthy nutrients and chemicals, which will start speeding up the healing process, plus it also feels therapeutic. Anyone who gets into a whirlpool or lays down on their bed with a hot pack knows that warmth always feels good, whereas ice gives you that initial shock and analgesic numbing feeling afterward.

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