Think of all the injuries that have occurred to your body in your lifetime. Depending on your level of activity, injury can be a constant part of some people’s lives. This especially can be the case for those who train competitively, whether it be solo or with a team. Athletes are consistently training and testing their bodies’ limits. For those who don’t compete, and perhaps like to hit the gym or a class a few times a week do not have the training pressure as that of an athlete. For example, if you are lifting weights at the gym and pull a muscle, you would most likely take a week or 2 off from your work-outs, allowing the injured muscle to heal. Athletes do not always have the option to do that. Sometimes they acquire an injury but must train through it. Repetitive work-outs can be detrimental to any given muscle. Basically, this repetition, without proper rest, is what leaves athletes most prone to injury.
The following injuries are some of the most common to athletes that I see here in Salt Lake City, Utah. Of course, different sports and events have their own specific injuries that occur, but I have accumulated some general injuries that I see in many athletes that come to me for bodywork.
1. Muscle Pull/Strain – Muscle Pulls and Strains are what I see most commonly in athletes. This can occur from over-training or simply not stretching enough. Very often I find that athletes train so much, they do not like to bother with stretching. But this seems to be true for most people in general as well. If you have a tight muscle in your neck or back, its obvious that 10-15 minutes of stretching would most likely alleviate the tension. However, I have observed that people, more often that not, will bypass the stretching. But I cannot stress enough, how important stretching is, especially for those that are very active. Another interesting observation that I have made, is that muscles can often become injured simply from stretching before work-outs. Stretching before a work-out does not seem necessary, since the muscles can be very cold still. Wait until the muscles have warmed up, and do your stretching after each work-out session.
What muscles become pulled/strained most frequently? From what I see in my clients, the Hamstrings and Piriformis are their biggest complaints. To avoid these pulls, of course make sure to stretch the Hamstrings and Glutes well after each work-out. But also make sure you are using your body mechanics the right way. Tighten your core and stand up straight as to maintain optimum posture and get the most out of your training.
2. Knee Pain – Knee pain in incredibly common to all athletes, but especially in runners. Repetitive pounding of your feet on the pavement or treadmill simply is not good for your knees. The most common knee pain, known as patellar-femoral syndrome, is an inflammation on the underside of the kneecap (patella). This can cause a lot of discomfort and make your work-outs very unpleasant. I also see this syndrome commonly occur in bikers and skiers. The best way to avoid these injuries is to make sure you have a proper gait during the activity, wear good shoes, and intermittently cross train to strengthen the muscles and ligaments around the knee.
3. Shin Splints – Shin splints are very common for athletes. I see these occur mostly in runners and dancers. They can develop from training on a new surface or changing the intensity of your work-out. They can cause a dull ache on the surface of the shins during or after work-outs, and can be quite painful. This pain is just caused from inflammation of the tissue in the area and usually can be cleared up with a little bit of rest and icing the area daily.
4. Tendonitis – is very common but can cause significant pain. It literally means inflammation of the tendon. If the normal smooth gliding motion of any given tendon is impaired, the tendon will become inflamed and movement will become painful. In my experience, Tendonitis seems to be most prevalent in the arms; especially the wrists and elbows. Another common spot is in the Achilles Tendon. An Achilles injury must be properly cared for and rested because this tendon is known to rupture. Recovery from a ruptured Achilles tendon can be a waiting game. You just won’t know how long it might take and limits your mobility drastically. Tendonitis occurs often from having a poor blood supply to the area, which prevents proper recovery from work-outs, but mostly it occurs from over-use. In cases of any type of inflammation, massage can help, especially to bring blood to the surface to heal the dysfunction must faster. But I have found that massage therapy can often make inflammation worse as well, so you just have to see how your tendonitis responds to bodywork. Of course, ice and rest always improve the injury as well.
5. IT Band Friction – The iliotibial (IT) band is a tough group of fibers that run along the outside of the thigh. It functions primarily as a stabilizer during running and can become irritated from overuse. Below is an illustration of the IT Band and its location. It is an interesting type of tissue because it is not specifically tendon, nor muscle, but can become pulled so tight that it causes much discomfort. I hear complaints of tension in this area from most of my clients who are active. The IT Band easily becomes tense but because of its specific type of strong fibers, it can be hard to stretch. A Sports massage treatment is most times always very helpful as the therapist will stretch this area for you. Also, you can buy foam rollers to roll out the tension. You just lie horizontally on the floor with the foam roller between you and the carpet, and move slowly to roll it out.
6. Tennis elbow- Also known as Lateral epicondylitis. This condition is basically just inflammation specifically in the elbow. Above, I mentioned that arms tend to suffer the most from tendonitis, but the most detrimental is when it affects the elbows. This can cause a lot of pain and discomfort and prevent normal activity severely. While the common name “tennis elbow” suggests a link to tennis and racquet sports, this condition can also be caused by sports such as swimming and climbing, the work of manual workers and waiters. And once again, because this is an inflammation issue, it is most commonly caused by over-use.
7. ACL injuries/tears – The ACL, or anterior cruciate ligament, is one of the most common ligaments damaged in a knee injury. ACL injuries are common among athletes participating in sports that require them to suddenly stop during a run or quickly change direction to avoid an opponent. I see this most commonly in football and basketball players. This injury, similar in severity to an Achilles Rupture, often requires surgery and many months of physical therapy. Bodywork can help this injury once its on its way to recovery and the inflammation has gone down. Massage Therapy can help to break up scar tissue and bring blood to the surface.
8. Plantar Fasciitis – Plantar fasciitis is a painful inflammatory process of the plantar fascia, the connective tissue of the sole (bottom surface) of the foot. Again it is caused by overuse, but how do you not overuse your feet?? It is a very common condition and I see it mostly affect people who wait tables for a living and runners. Because it is so common however, it can affect anyone who is on their feet a lot. Massage therapy can be a huge relief for those suffering from Plantar Fasciitis. Symptoms include, tightness in the feet, burning pain, and the inability to walk on your feet for the first few moments from when you get out of bed in the morning. People with this issue tend to complain of pain mostly in the evenings when inflammation is at its peak. Icing your feet for 20 minutes each night can cut down the pain significantly and staying off your feet as much as possible.
Although I have named a few common sports injuries, athletes are affected by many. But as you can see, most of them involve some type of inflammation to a certain tissue in the body and come on by over-use. If you are experiencing any of these conditions or know that you have an area of inflammation, try to back off from intense activity. It is your body giving you a signal to slow down. But you don’t have to slow down forever. Give your body 2-3 weeks of rest and then reassess the injury. And remember that it is much better to be out of the game for a few weeks, than it is to re-injure the area and really cause some problems. Also, I don’t want to sound like a broken record but ice will be your best friend through out this process. If you feel that you need more assistance, contact me in Salt Lake City, Utah today. Muscles that are being constantly abused can greatly benefit from massage therapy. Call today at 801.349.3934 to get more information about Sports massage and its benefits.