Sports medicine is a broad term that covers injuries and chronic conditions of the musculoskeletal system. This system includes bones, muscles, joints, ligaments, tendons, and bursas. Sports medicine can also cover certain nervous system conditions, such as concussions and nerve compression.
A survey by the Urgent Care Association revealed 15,000 patient care visits to urgent care centers occurred in 2016, many for sports injuries. Sports injuries are not necessarily limited to those that occur while engaging in sports. To the contrary, sports injuries can occur on the job, while working in the yard, or falling off the ladder. Here are four frequently asked questions about chronic sports injuries:
What is a chronic sports injury?
Sports injuries are broadly categorized as acute or chronic. Acute injuries are those that are traumatic and occur quickly. An example of an acute injury is a torn ligament. Some symptoms of acute injuries include:
- Sudden pain, typically severe
- Limited range of motion
- Visible dislocation or bone break
Chronic injuries are those nagging injuries that persist over time. A chronic sports injury is damage to a body part that accumulates over time and appears every time, or nearly every time, you engage in an activity. Symptoms of chronic injuries include:
- Aches or dull pain
- Swelling and inflammation
- The same pain every time you perform the same movement
How do chronic sports injuries occur?
Chronic injuries are almost always due to repetitive use or overuse. They can also be caused, or exacerbated, by age as osteoarthritis, loss of flexibility, and loss of strength occur as we get older.
One example of a chronic injury is tennis elbow. Tennis elbow occurs when overuse of the forearm muscles causes small tears to develop in the tendons that attach the muscles to the elbow. These tears cause pain and weakness in the wrist, forearm, and elbow. Notwithstanding its name, tennis elbow can occur due to many types of repetitive motions, such as those experienced while working with hand tools.
Another example of a chronic injury is carpal tunnel syndrome. Carpal tunnel syndrome occurs when overuse causes the synovial membranes surrounding the tendons of the finger muscles to swell. This swelling compresses the median nerve that runs through the wrist and into the hand. Compression of the nerve causes pain, weakness, numbness, and burning sensations in the hand and fingers.
How are chronic injuries managed?
Fortunately, many chronic injuries do not require a visit to an urgent care center because chronic injuries are often not treated. Rather, they are managed until the body can heal itself. Management includes:
- Rest. Rest allows the injury to heal and reduces the likelihood that you will either aggravate or re-injure the injury.
- Ice. Ice reduces swelling by slowing metabolism and circulation in the area by constricting blood vessels near the injury. By reducing swelling, the inflammatory response is prevented from damaging tissues that were otherwise uninjured. Ice treatment is usually limited to 15 to 20 minute sessions to avoid frostbite.
Additionally, an over the counter anti-inflammatory can reduce the body’s inflammatory response.
Once the injury heals itself, prevention is necessary to prevent a recurrence of the injury. Aside from overuse, one cause of chronic injuries can be poor form. For example, runners can suffer shin splints and plantar fasciitis due to poor running form. Plantar fasciitis can occur when runners take too long of a stride, causing the heel to strike the ground before the rest of the foot. Shin splints can occur when runners flex their feet when landing or pushing off, causing the calf muscles to strain with each step.
Injuries can also be prevented by strengthening the area through cross-training and not overexercising.
When should you see a doctor for chronic injuries?
For injuries that do not heal themselves with rest, sports medicine may be required. Some injuries can be treated with physical therapy to strengthen the injured area and build up other muscles to brace and support the injured area.
In more serious cases, surgery may be required to repair muscles, ligaments, tendons, or nerves that have been damaged. If pain or swelling persists for more than a few weeks, it may be time to consult a doctor.
Sports medicine is not just limited to sports injuries. Repetitive motion from work or play can cause chronic injuries that can cause significant pain and swelling. While most of these injuries can be managed with rest and ice until the body can heal them, some may require physical therapy or surgery to repair.
Are you interested in learning more? Whether you’re suffering from a chronic issue or hope to get the best treatment available, rely on the experience of Care Station Medical today.