News flash: most of us are not as young as we used to be. Back in our teens and early 20s, we could be lounging on the couch one minute, then bounce up and go for a run or hit up the beach for some volleyball the next. If you’re like me, it takes more effort these days.
If you’re also like me, we often forget that we’re not 21 anymore and immediately suit up to play—and the result isn’t always pretty with back pain lurking in the shadows.
We’re here because we live active lifestyles, and we want to continue leading active lifestyles for as long as we can. Combine the aging process with the fact that we’re typically sitting in front of a computer for eight hours a day, and it’s no wonder sports injuries are so common.
Here I want to highlight the most common types of sports injuries and what you can do to deal with the pain—and maybe even prevent or eliminate the pain altogether.
Without further ado, here they are (and what you can do about them):
1. Hip flexor strain: The hip flexors are on the upper-front side of your thigh and are responsible for lifting your knee towards your belly. If you’re like the vast majority of people who sit behind a computer for hours a day, there’s a good chance your hip flexors are weak. If walking up stairs or raising your feet up to get out of your car causes some soreness, that’s a sign you could be experiencing strained hip flexors.
Depending on your soreness level, rest and ice (20 minutes on, 20 minutes off) for at least 48 hours is recommended. You can apply heat after that for the same intervals. You can also try gentle hip stretches to counter the sitting motion we find ourselves in daily.
2. ACL tear or strain:One of the most common injuries among athletes, tearing the ACL, or anterior cruciate ligament, can be a devastating blow. The ACL is one of the major stabilizing ligaments of the knee, and we as athletes rely on it whenever we’re changing directions quickly or slowing down abruptly, so any damage to it results in not only pain but also a long road to recovery.
If the ACL strain or tear is minor, simple rest and ice and be the path toward healing, but if it’s worse than that—a complete tear—you might need surgery. Unfortunately, the recovery time from that is long and arduous.
3. Ankle sprain:Another widespread sports injury, this probably doesn’t need much explanation. An ankle sprain can happen in many ways, but it often results when we step or land incorrectly, and our ankle folds, rolls, or twists on itself. The pain we feel is the ligaments that keep the ankle stabilized stretching more than they are meant.
Most of the time, rest and ice are the best ways to treat an ankle sprain. Essentially, the body needs time to heal the ligament(s), and the ice goes a long way to reduce the swelling and ease the pain.
4. Groin pull:If you think of your knee caps and the inner thigh muscles as two ends of a rainbow, arcing from one, through the crotch, then down to the other, you’ve basically outlined the groin. This area is mainly responsible for side-to-side motions, which is very common in most sports. Overexertion, combined with a lack of flexibility, are two ways we tend to injure the groin. Ask anyone who has suffered a groin injury, and they’ll tell you – it’s not fun.
Once again, rest and ice for the first 48 hours will help bring the swelling and pain down. After that, heat and gentle stretches will help relax the muscles and promote healing.
5. Shin splints: Runners, or those who participate in sports that involve lots of running, like soccer, experience this most often. Obviously, the pain comes from the shins (aka the tibia in medical speak), and generally occurs from running too much and/or too soon.
Because of this, shin splints can be found and treated early with rest and ice. But it’s yet another reminder that we need to work up to our goals slowly. Shoes with good arch support can also help. Don’t try to tough out or bulldog your way through injuries like this. Take time off running and do some cross-training to give your body a chance to heal.
6. Sciatica: A radiating back pain that travels down the back of the leg and even to the feet. It’s often found in cyclists, golfers, tennis players, and those athletes who flex forward or rotate their trunks.
Prolonged sitting is also a major cause of sciatica because when we sit we are putting pressure on the sciatic nerve and piriformis muscle. It’s important to know piriformis syndrome is often mistaken for sciatica. Either way, movement throughout the day and limiting sitting can bring great results for this suffering from either condition.
7. Hamstring strain:The big muscle running down the back of your legs? That’s your hamstring. As athletes, you’re likely very aware of how vital your hamstrings are since they generate so much force that we need for virtually any activity. Simultaneously, poor stretching, a lack of flexibility, and failing to properly warm-up are all reasons we pull this muscle once we ask it to perform.
If you’ve ever watched runners, especially sprinters, pull up midway through a race, it’s almost a certainty it’s because they pulled their hamstring. The long stretch of the leg as it fully extends, followed by the landing and quick contraction/push as the runner leaps forward, is taxing on the hamstrings.
The treatment? Prevention through isolated strength training and warmup is the best, but if you’ve already pulled it then you know what comes next – rest, ice, and stretching.
8. Tennis elbow:Also known as golf elbow, this is an overuse injury resulting in the tendons in the forearm getting inflamed due to the constant gripping of the tennis racket or golf club, or other similar contraptions we grip onto in sports. Then moving the hand or wrist becomes painful, and it’s hard to grasp the racket or club with any strength.
Unfortunately, these types of injuries take time, which means time off your beloved game. Topicals such as arnica cream can serve these injuries well along with rest, ice, heat, and stretch routine.
Wearing a brace to immobilize your hand and wrist can also help. Upon returning to the sport, warming up is critical, and if it becomes irritated stop immediately. For prevention and long term recovery, look to strengthen the forearm, as it’s often the weak link between your hands and shoulder.
9. Patellofemoral Syndrome: Your knees take a beating during most sports (lucky you if you’re a swimmer). Because of this, knee injuries happen all the time. Patellofemoral syndrome is one of the most common. That long name boils down to a muscle imbalance, causing swelling (and pain) that causes the kneecap to track improperly at the end of the femur. This vicious cycle goes around and around as even the act of walking around can irritate the injury.
I know I sound like a broken record with the rest and ice treatment for minor cases, but there’s another important aspect to patellofemoral syndrome recovery I think is essential after the swelling starts to come down.
At this point, it’s time to address the muscle imbalance, and that will require strategic stretching of the outer thigh muscles and strengthening of the inner thigh to get the balance back in line.
Do you notice a trend or similarities between some of these? Sprains, strains, and pulls can be put under the general umbrella of Overuse Injuries.
When we’re young and flexible (think of the supple muscles of our youth), our muscles and ligaments are pliable, but they get more rigid as we get older, and we need to be more diligent to warm up our bodies properly, so our joints, ligaments, and muscles are ready for activity. When we don’t, and we exert all our energy during an activity, we’re prime candidates for an overuse injury.
Plus, after an event, we should be just as diligent with our cool-down for the same reasons—keeping the joints, ligaments, tendons, and muscles loose and pliable. Reach the back of your neck right now and feel if it’s supple. It’’s pretty rigid, isn’t it? That rigidity is how injuries often start.
If you didn’t already notice above, relief for things like strains, sprains, and pulls can be as simple as icing the injury and resting. If ice is helping, but you need something more, a trip to physical therapy might be in order. They can recommend stretches and treatments you may not have available in your home.
Of course, there’s something else you can try to help alleviate pain—The Backmate. I can’t stress enough how much I believe in massage therapy to loosen muscles and calm the hyperactive nervous system. This has another benefit of also relieving pain. What makes the Backmate even more appealing is that it can target every one of the problem areas mentioned above. All you have to do is move it up or down on your door frame and rotate the angle of the roller heads.
What’s more, I’m also excited to recommend theBackmate Power Massager. This small, compact, and portable device deliver percussive vibration to the muscles.
Its intense long strokes provide effective muscle therapy, pain relief, and another layer of massage that compliments all the work you do with the standard Backmate. Plus, it’s a convenient tool to have at your side whenever you don’t have a door frame handy for the Backmate.
Sports injuries will always be a fact of life for those of us who lead an active lifestyle. Unfortunately, it comes with the territory. Hopefully, after reading this, you’re equipped with the tools, techniques, and information to make your downtime as short as possible.
It’s my firm belief that with diligent preparation, which includes a proper warm-up, stretching, the Backmate, and Power Massager, we can mitigate sports injuries and keep leading active lifestyles for a long time to come.
As always, here’s to good health!