How to Spot a Sports Injury

Whilst regular exercise and participation in sporting activity is a positive thing, there is always the risk of susceptibility to injury. Recognizing the occurrence of an injury or the potential of a problem arising in the future is an important part of maintaining fitness. Here we examine what to look for and how to make sure that you are exercising effectively.

Acute injury 

Physical injuries generally fall into two categories, acute and chronic. Acute injuries are most easily recognised. Their onset is immediate and their symptoms uncomfortable, at least in the short term. Perhaps you twist a joint or fall heavily upon one of your limbs. The action will cause pain, swelling and discomfort to your bone, muscles or outer tissue. You will likely suffer a decreased range of motion and the inability to apply pressure or take your weight on that part of your body. Rest, elevation, isolating and applying pressure to it, as well as the application of ice or muscle cream, may well reduce or eliminate the symptoms. Sprains, strains and bruising are all examples of acute sports injuries.

Chronic injury

Chronic injuries are those that linger and resurface over time. They are not those caused by a particular short-term incident, but occur after more prolonged use of an area which then develops recurring symptoms. Failure to properly attend to and remedy acute injury will result in a chronic condition. Joints such as knees, elbows and wrists are particular at risk of chronic injury. They take the strain of exercise, often repetitious and strenuous motion, and familiar symptoms arise. Pain, swelling, stiffness and inhibited movement are common warning signs. They may abate and cease all together after rest, but they are still indicative of a chronic condition, which will only worsen over time if not treated.

The warning signs

Recognising a sporting injury may be more tricky than you think so it pays to be vigilant. Simply keeping an eye out for pain and putting aches and stiffness down to the natural side-effects of a good workout can be a dangerous game. Swelling, for instance, is often a deceptively slight symptom so make sure you monitor your outer tissue carefully after exercise.

Tenderness, and numbness or tingling at a particular point, are equally good indicators that perhaps you pushed yourself a little too far, or need to examine your technique so that you’re not unduly straining that part of your body. Examine comparative weakness. Are both sides of your body feeling equally healthy the day after? Is your range of motion the same on both sides and as flexible as it should be?

The medical side

Medically speaking, acute and chronic injury refers to the body’s three phases of recovery from damage: acute, sub-acute and chronic. Acute trauma, when treated effectively, will usually subside after 72 hours. Chronic complaints will remain for at least two weeks and often take weeks or months to heal.

The phase between the 3-day mark and 2 weeks is the sub-acute phase. All three phases require different medical procedures. Initial isolation, pressure, elevation and the elimination of swelling via medication makes way for strength, conditioning and pain management. Those sub-acute techniques allow the passage through to chronic rehabilitation, mostly focused on restoring full strength and range of motion to the area in question.

What to do

The chances are you are very good at taking precautions when you exercise, stretching and warming up and down before and after your workout. However, even the most sensible athlete will suffer injury, and in that case acting now will save paying for it later. Consulting a doctor and/or a physiotherapist if you feel even the slightest twinge is always a smart move. Allowing an acute injury to become a chronic one not only causes you a lot more pain, but also jeopardises your health and mobility in the long run.

This is a post from Lotty, a student at Brunel University who is currently studying for her physiotherapy masters in London.



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