Playing sports or engaging in vigorous exercise is great for your health, but it also comes with the risk of injury. Long training sessions and increased intensity both put strain on your body. Bones, joints, tendons and ligaments exposed to this repeated stress can become damaged, leading to pain and inflammation. Choosing the right treatment can help you get back to your regular routine as quickly as possible while minimizing the chance of lasting damage.
Home Treatment: RICE
Immediately following an injury, your best bet to prevent further damage is to start the well-known RICE therapy:
Stop any activity when you feel pain, and start resting the affected area. Apply ice wrapped in a thin towel or cloth for 15 to 20 minutes at a time throughout the day to keep swelling at a minimum. If possible, wrap the area in a compression bandage or brace for added support and to prevent the buildup of fluid. Elevating the injured body part above heart level as often as possible also reduces swelling.
Over-the-counter pain relievers are often recommended for sports injuries, but these drugs interfere with the body’s inflammatory process and can actually impede healing. Natural alternatives support beneficial inflammation while reducing the associated pain. You can try:
Choose supplements without fillers and additives to get the most benefit and avoid possible reactions to artificial ingredients.
Although immobilizing an injury for too long can be detrimental to recovery, there are times when you need to stop moving completely and let the body work on healing. If movement is going to exacerbate the injury or contribute to permanent problems, your doctor may instruct you to wear a brace, sling or sprint. Severe injuries can require casts to prevent even the smallest movement from disrupting the healing process. Crutches and other mobility aids relieve pressure on the injured body part until it’s safe to resume weight-bearing activities.
Standard Physical Therapy
Working with a physical therapist to restore strength and range of motion is advisable if your injury puts you at risk for developing imbalances or losing flexibility. Depending on the type of injury, this therapy may involve manual manipulation of the area by the physical therapist or a regimen of low-impact stretches and exercises for you to do on your own.
Stem Cell Regeneration
Some physicians are achieving favorable results by treating sports injuries with stem cell therapy. Stem cells are harvested from the fat, blood or marrow of the injured person and injected into the damaged area. These cells appear to have the ability to stimulate a self-healing response in the body by contributing to tissue regeneration.
Treating sports injuries with stem cell therapy hasn’t been tested in the long term, but experiential evidence suggests it may be a viable alternative to more invasive procedures. Since your own cells provide the basis for healing, the risks of complications may also be lower.
Very serious injuries, such as completely torn connective tissue or broken bones, can require surgery to fix. These types of sports injuries are rare for moderate exercisers but can be a legitimate concern if you’re involved in competitive events requiring hours of daily training or contact sports in which your body is repeatedly subject to heavy impacts. For most injuries, doctors are able to perform surgery using the “keyhole” method instead of completely opening the area. In cases where joints have degenerated significantly, joint replacement may be recommended.
If you’re injured while working out or playing a sport, talk with your doctor to determine the best course of action. He or she can assess the extent of the damage and recommend the proper kind of therapy.