How to Treat Your Sports Injury

Sports medicine isn't just for chiseled pro athletes who get carted off the field in need of speedy recovery. Even weekend warriors who experience pain during workouts can take advantage of the techniques sports-med docs use to diagnose, treat and prevent fitness-related ailments. If you lead an active lifestyle, you'll likely recognize these six most common sports injuries:

  • Achilles tendon pain or numbness
  • Fractures
  • Knee irritation
  • Shin splints
  • Sprains and strains
  • Swollen muscles

It's never a good idea to push through pain while exercising on the elliptical, playing on the soccer field, or doing any other type of physical activity. In fact, doing so can lead to further damage. Mark Klion, M.D., clinical instructor of sports medicine at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine Department of Orthopedics in New York, shares at-home remedies that work, plus gives tips on how to find a trusted specialist near you if the aches persist.

Can sports injuries be treated at home?
Sometimes. Pain from an injury stems from inflammation. Try the RICE method, which I modify to RRICE (Relative Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation), to ease swelling and irritation. I say relative rest because with many injuries, like swollen muscles, you can stay active through the healing process and maintain aerobic conditioning--but you'll have to switch from high- to low-impact activities. Apply ice within 12 to 36 hours of getting injured to reduce swelling, then use an ACE bandage to keep the area tight and stiff. Lastly, elevate the extremity so that gravity pulls excess fluid away from the affected area, further decreasing swelling—the one thing that can really slow down the rehab process.

When is it time to see a doctor?
Sports injuries can be acute, occurring suddenly during exercise; or chronic, developing over time. While both types can be treated at home, if the injury is severe--for example, you think you've broken a bone or there is excessive bleeding--or continues to be painful five days after treatment, you should see a doctor. Signs of acute injuries include bruising, swelling, deformity (such as bone dislocation), inability to place weight on an area, and sharp pain. Serious acute injuries, like ankle sprains or Achilles tendon ruptures, should be taken to the ER. Chronic, also called overuse, injuries like tendonitis, shin splints, or stress fractures result from repetitive training, improper stretching, or gear problems. They cause dull, persistent aches that gradually worsen. If you're limping, numb, or experiencing less flexibility than normal, you should see a doctor.

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