Having a basic knowledge of sports injuries is something every athlete and sports-lover needs. That way, you can understand what should happen, what shouldn't and, just possibly, when to seek expert help.
Firstly, are you clear you know the difference between a strain and a sprain? A strain is an injury resulting from stretching or even tearing a muscular tendinous unit. A sprain is different, and involves damage to a ligament which attaches one bone to another, crossing a joint. If you have a strain, it will be described as being one of three grades. A Grade One strain is a minor type of strain or pull of a muscle. A Grade Two strain usually needs medical attention and for you to stay on the sidelines while you recover. You will have a tearing of the fibres, leading to swelling and bruising that will typically need 3-6 weeks to heal.
Lastly, there's a Grade Three strain. This will take you out of all training for 3-6 months: it is a complete tear which needs to be immobilized in a cast. You may also need surgery.
The 'PRICE' method
For treating an injury, PRICE stands for 'Protect, Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation'.
- Protect means the aim of protecting the injured area to avoid further injury.
- Rest means stopping doing anything that makes an injured limb hurt.
- Ice means applying ice to an injured joint, for 20 minutes at a time, every 3-4 hours
- Compression usually involves an elastic bandage such as an ACE wrap or an elastic sleeve to limit the swelling
- Elevation means lifting a lower extremity such as an injured knee or ankle above the level of your heart.
Stress and full fractures
The repeated action of running and jumping required in sport can exert repetitive stresses that lead to microscopic breaks in part of the bone. This is a 'stress fracture' and treatment usually involves stopping the activity and allowing a healing process over 6-8 weeks. A complete fracture is different: the bone must be reset and held together with a cast. Surgery may also be needed, and possibly metal plates, screws or a metal rod to hold the bones together. The healing time is a couple of months.
Anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injuries
These days, surgery for ACL tears is not only highly effective but also open to people in their 50s and 60s who want to keep playing demanding sports such as basketball, skiing and football. Surgery may not always be needed. However, if your sport involves sudden stopstarts and fast changes in direction, a procedure to repair or reconstruct the ligament may be the best way forward.
Traumatic and over-use injuries
Do I need to see a specialist? It's a question athletes and sports people often ask themselves about an injury. If it's a trauma injury - yes. If you can't walk, or use a limb, or if it's severe enough to cause disfiguration, then obviously you should see a doctor or indeed head to A & E.
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