Participation in sports and physical activity brings a wealth of benefits to your health and well being; however, accidents and injuries during these activities occur all too frequently. An essential part of staying in the game involves finding the right people to help you understand how to limit, prevent, or heal from sports injuries. Chiropractic, through such specialized educational resources as the Certified Chiropractic Sports Physician (C.C.S.P.) Program, has one of the most modern and effective non-drug and non-surgical sports rehabilitation programs available today.
How Did I Get Injured?
Sports injuries can occur due to an accident or from the repeated overuse of muscles, tendons, and joints. In organized sports, over fifty percent of these injuries occur in practice, rather than during an actual game. Basketball, football, and soccer rank among the highest of reported injuries. The type of injury received from participation in these sports is often called an acute injury.
With an acute injury, the body’s initial response is to create swelling around the site of impact. The swelling is the result of your immune system rushing chemicals to the injury site. This immune response is meant to protect against infection and occurs regardless if the skin was broken or not. The swelling is the price we pay for this absolute protection since immune system chemicals naturally attract fluid.
One of the greatest discoveries in the management of sports injuries was the initial actions to reduce swelling. Experts have estimated that an injured athlete treated with the R.I.C.E. approach will recover 50% faster and have less chance of re-injury than an athlete who does not follow this approach.
The R.I.C.E. Method
Reduce your activities and take weight off the injured area. You will often use crutches, a cane, or another supportive device. When using a cane, you should hold it on the opposite side of a hip, leg, knee, ankle, or foot injury (e.g., if your right foot or ankle is injured, use the cane on your left side).
Apply an ice pack to the injured area for 15 minutes, then take it off for another 15 minutes. This routine should be used four to eight times a day for a period of 72 hours. You can use a cold pack, an ice bag, or a plastic bag filled with crushed ice and wrapped in a thin towel.
To avoid cold injury such as frostbite, do not leave ice on the skin for more than 20 minutes. Also, smaller areas, like the toes, as well as areas with little padding, like the sides of the knee, elbow, and foot, require much less time on ice. A good rule of thumb is to check the area under the ice. Early signs of frostbite include a feeling of pins and needles, numbness, or pale, hard, or waxy skin. Never go to sleep when using ice. It is also a good idea to set a timer to alert you when it is time to remove the ice.
Apply even compression (pressure) to the injured area to help reduce swelling. You can use devices such as bandage wraps (such as an Ace Bandage), sports tape, or an air cast to do this. Be sure to check the area to make sure the compression is not too tight. The compression wrap should not cause tingling (pins and needles) or numbness.
Place the injured area on a pillow or similar soft surface at or above the level of your heart. This will help to reduce swelling. Remember that the elevation is only effective if the level of the injured area is at or above the level of the heart. Sitting in a chair with your leg on a short footstool does not do enough to return the fluid to the heart.
The R.I.C.E. method may also be applied to a chronic re-injury or a condition caused by overuse. The use of ice will help reduce the swelling and pain when a flare up occurs. After you have reduced the swelling, the proper management of any chronic condition requires an understanding of why the affected area continues to be problematic. One of the most common reasons is weakened support tissue or damaged muscle. Chronic re-injuries can, therefore, be reduced by limiting or removing the repetitive or exaggerated forces to the injured area while, at the same time, improving the strength, flexibility, and integrity to the surrounding tissue.
It is always best to seek the advice of a qualified professional who is knowledgeable in both the treatment and prevention of sports injuries. Chiropractors diagnose, evaluate, and administer rehabilitative treatment for many types of sports injuries, especially those involving sprains to tendons and joints, strains to muscles, and non-paralyzing injuries to the spine. A chiropractor with specialized training in the treatment of sports injuries can help you to recover from your injury and can also help you avoid future re-injury.
Chiropractors diagnose and evaluate sports injury with a history (how, when, and why it happened), an examination, and, if needed, an x-ray. After the diagnosis and the severity of the injury are determined, they will recommend an appropriate treatment program. This may involve the use of adjustive procedures and physiotherapy to help reduce swelling and improve the integrity in and around the site of the injury.
How Sports Injury Care Works
In the initial stage of care, your chiropractor may use certain methods such as ice massage, ultrasound, or galvanic stimulation to reduce the swelling around a joint or in a muscle. They may also use other techniques such as passive range of motion, which is a modern technique proven through research studies to decrease swelling and initiate, as well as improve, healing to an injured area.
In the later stages of care, the chiropractor places an emphasis on improving the integrity of the injured tissue through heat, massage, careful mobilization, and stretching. All of these therapies help to remove the chemicals and waste products from within the injury, which would lead to arthritis if left untreated. They may recommend a strengthening plan to help you prevent re-injuries in the future when the injury is well healed.
It is important to recognize early signs of problems, which could lead to an injury if ignored. If you have any of the warning signs below, you should consider contacting a Doctor of Chiropractic for an evaluation.
- Tenderness or swelling in a joint or muscle before or after an activity
- Numbness or tingling in an extremity
- Pain during range of motion
- Reduced range of motion or stiffness in a joint or unusual looseness from a prior injury
- Weakness in a muscle
How to Prevent Sports Injuries
Recent studies suggest that excessive stretching prior to an event is unnecessary; however, you should still stretch to ensure ease of use through the expected range of motion and as a way to warm up the muscle.
Take some time to duplicate parts of the activity, such as a brief jog before a race, rotating the shoulders before pitching a ball, etc.
Ice Before Use
Recent studies have shown that icing a muscle or joint before warm-up actually increases the blood supply to that muscle and joint during the warm-up exercises.
Cool Down When Finished
Take 5-10 minutes to cool down, walk, jog, or do some light exercise before leaving the activity. A properly done cool-down will help remove waste products such as lactic acid from your body, gradually lower your heart rate and respiration, and help prevent muscle soreness.
Eating right provides many benefits, including helping you manage your weight, control your cholesterol level, maintain your joints, and build healthy muscles. Talk to your chiropractor about a diet program especially suited to your high-activity needs.
Although sports injuries will always be inevitable, with proper care and management of both yourself and your injury, you can get back to doing what you love in less time and with less chance of future re-injury. Always remember to talk with your Chiropractor before starting any sports or exercise program and, if an injury does occur, use the R.I.C.E. recommendations and call your chiropractor immediately.