When it comes to treating sports injuries, everyone has an opinion about what works best. But most people aren’t doctors or specialists who work in the areas of sports medicine or physical rehabilitation, and some of the “tried-and-true” treatments you may have heard may not be based in sound medical knowledge.
Improper treatment of a sports injury can lead to further complications down the road. We’ve debunked several myths—and highlighted some important facts—about treating sports injuries so you can avoid sitting on the sidelines for too long.
MYTH: “Rest is always best.” This is not entirely true. While rest may initially reduce inflammation and pain, it will not treat the root cause of a soft tissue injury (i.e., muscle, ligament and tendon sprains, strains and tears). It is important to seek a proper diagnosis and treatment plan beyond the initial rest period to treat soft tissue damage. Rest alone is not enough to heal and strengthen the affected area.
MTYH: “Orthotic inserts work wonders.” Simply slipping an insert into your running shoe may alleviate knee pain caused by over-pronation during running, but it won’t treat the underlying problem. Most runners’ knee pain is caused by poor form and/or muscle imbalance during striding. Before you grab that insert, an assessment of your overall running form is recommended.
MYTH: “Pop a painkiller.” We all admire the elite athlete who takes a shot before the big game and plays through the pain. While this may seem admirable, even a world class pro will tell you that it’s not the long-term situation. If you take a couple of Advil or the like before your next workout or game, guess what? The pain may subside, but it will return, and then it may be even worse. If you experience pain, listen to your body’s alarm systems and seek professional medical advice.
MYTH: “Stretch away those injuries.” Not so fast. While stretching is an important component of any workout or pregame warm up, it is not a shield against injury. In fact, stretching an injured muscle or other affected area may cause further damage. Keeping your body strong, balanced and in shape through proper training is key to overall injury avoidance.
FACT: Sports injuries are either acute or chronic. Acute injuries occur suddenly, like when you twist your ankle during a game. These types of injuries include sprains, strains, breaks and fractures and are characterized by severe pain and tenderness, swelling, limited motion, out-of-place bones and inability to put pressure or weight on the area. Chronic injuries occur after longer workout sessions or sports-related activities, and are characterized by pain during the activity and dull pain or mild swelling afterward.
FACT: Never play through the pain. Never. This is a sure way to aggravate any injury. If you feel pain during a workout or a game, stop and seek treatment. Acute injuries should be attended to by a physician immediately. Less severe injuries—like mild sprains—may be treatable at home, but you should still consult a doctor before beginning any type of treatment.
FACT: R.I.C.E. spells initial relief. While both acute and chronic injuries should be attended to by a qualified physician, using the RICE (Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation) method for milder injuries like strains and sprains within the first 48 hours after injury occurs will help to initially relieve pain, reduce swelling and promote the healing process.
FACT: Don’t play doctor. If you are injured during a workout or sports-related activity, don’t try to treat it yourself. Yes, initial treatment measures you can take at home—like RICE—may mitigate the pain and reduce the potential for further injury, but they are not a replacement for sound, effective medical treatment unless indicated by a doctor.