by Josh Orendorf
Injuries are the worst. As an athlete, there’s nothing more frustrating. You may feel anxious or uncertain about how to handle it. I get it. I’ve been through it, and I want to help you get through it too. The best part of my job as a Doctor of Physical Therapy is teaching the athletes I work with how to conquer their injuries and return to their sport without pain. I love empowering others to take control of their injuries. That’s why I’ve compiled this simple three-step guide. It will help you learn how to to treat your own injuries, without ever needing to see a PT.
Identify The Anatomy
The first step in treating your own injuries is accurately diagnosing the problem. This can seem overwhelming at first, but once you understand what you’re dealing with, you’ll be able to treat it much easier. Let’s walk through it. Here are the four most commonly injured structures in athletes:
Muscle – Muscle tears are prevalent in athletes due to the high amount of strain. When we put too much external strain on them, it can result in a tear. Symptoms of muscle tears will include swelling, tenderness to touch, loss of range of motion, and bruising. Athletes involved in weight lifting or contact sports are most prone to muscular injuries. It can take between 2-8 weeks for damaged muscle to heal. You’ll want to work on your range of motion after the initial tear and begin gentle strengthening after two weeks of rest. If you start loading the tissue too soon, you may further the tear.
Tendon – A tendon is where a muscle connects to a bone. Irritation can easily develop at this anchor point, resulting in tendonitis. Tendonitis is common in endurance athletes due to the high repetition in their sport. Most with tendon injuries will complain of pinpointed pain, dull aching, throbbing and pressure around the affected tendon. Tendons are notoriously stubborn healers, so you must be patient with them. Tendons respond well to ice massage and soft tissue mobilization. If you have tendonitis, be sure to avoid highly repetitive motions as the tendon heals.
Bone – Bone fractures are often the cause of direct impact. Athletes involved in contact sports as well as cyclists and runners are at high risk for bone fractures. If you experience pain with weight bearing that is sharp and stabbing, you may be dealing with a bone fracture. Bones are predictable healers and will take a minimum of six weeks to heal once fractured. You may have to limit your weight bearing while a fracture is healing. Aquatic-based cross training is a great non-weight bearing alternative to maintaining muscle strength and cardiovascular conditioning.
Nerve – Your nerves are your body’s electrical system. When this system gets disrupted, you’ll experience a sharp shooting pain that radiates from one spot to another. This will present itself as burning, tingling, numbness or weakness. The most common sites of pain are the cervical spine (neck) and lumbar spine (low back). Healing time frames for nerve injuries vary widely based on the severity of the injury. Due to the potentially serious nature of nerve injuries, I recommend seeing your PT or MD if you’re experiencing these symptoms.
Recover & Cross Train
Once you’ve identified your injury, it’s likely that you’ll need to modify your training in order to allow complete healing. The number one mistake most of us make (I’m guilty of it as well) is not allowing their injury to heal completely. Going back to your sport too soon is a great way to get stuck in the re-injury cycle. Be patient and diligent about giving your body what it needs. Respect the healing time frames listed above and let your body bounce back. I encourage you to take this opportunity to cross train. Cross training is a great way to increase your overall fitness and occupy your mind as you focus on recovery. It allows you to continue to be active and can help keep you in a positive headspace. Try something new or re-hash an old sport. Get back in the weight room, jump on the rowing machine, swim laps or ride your bike. Do whatever it takes to stay active without irritating your injury. Your future self will thank you.
Prevent It From Happening Again
Now that you’ve fully recovered from your injury, how can you prevent it from happening again? We’re glad you asked. First of all, prevention depends on the type of injury you have. If you tore a muscle for example, you may need to modify your strength training program in order to strengthen weak muscle groups that are now susceptible to further injury. If your problem was an overuse injury, like tendonitis, you may want to modify your form and allow some time for offloading the tendon. Treating your symptoms is a great first step, but your goal should be to fix the underlying cause. Some of the best advice for athletes that have successfully recovered from an injury is to take the cross training they did during their recovery and permanently incorporate it into their regular training program. Creating diversity in your program is a great way to create muscular balance, avoid injury, and increase your overall athleticism.
Hopefully, this guide offers some valuable information about treating your own injuries. If you follow these three simple steps, we guarantee you’ll be able to treat most of your own injuries. But with that said, if you are ever in pain and in doubt, a medical expert will always help guide you.