After sustaining a sports injury, most patients are eager to get moving again – whether it is returning to their sport or daily functional activities.
Dr Gowreeson Thevendran, an orthopaedic sports surgeon at Mount Elizabeth Novena Hospital, shares his medical perspective on how to achieve a faster recovery after a sports injury.
Regardless of the type of sport or the level that you play at, injuries are unfortunately part and parcel of playing sports. Getting help early and having a focused strategy for recovery is instrumental towards enabling an early return to sports.
Here are key factors to consider when dealing with a sports injury:
Prevention is better than cure
The vast majority of sport injuries can be avoided by doing some kind of warm-up, consisting of either some cardio or stretching prior to the sport. Soft tissues that have been warmed-up and stretched before activity are far less likely to get injured during the sport.
Cold therapy and elevation
The mnemonic RICE which stands for rest, ice, compression and elevation is key to treating an acute soft tissue injury.
In the immediate phase of a sport injury, there is swelling, redness and warmth that results in pain. Cold therapy (icing) helps alleviate this while compression with a soft bandage limits swelling. Elevating the injured area is critical even up to first 48 – 72 hours after the injury, as it reduces swelling due to gravity.
The objective of early RICE therapy is to control the initial inflammation and get the healing process started early.
An injured body part will struggle to heal if it is repeatedly used after an injury. Pain is an excellent indicator of an ongoing injury and should not be ignored, even if that means resting from daily functional activities or sports.
It is often best to immobilise the injured area with a splint or brace and rest it completely to allow complete healing. Continuing to use the injured body part may aggravate an acute injury and turn it into a chronic one.
Get a diagnosis and understand your injury
Minor sprains or tears typically improve significantly after 2 weeks of rest and a break from sport. A lack of improvement should warrant a consultation with a sports doctor.
A thorough clinical examination and imaging (x-rays/scans) will confirm the diagnosis and help focus the rehabilitation strategy to enable a faster recovery with no complications. Understanding the nature of the injury also helps enormously with the mental preparation during recovery.
Early range of motion exercises
Once the initial inflammation has settled, early movements of the joint to restore a full range of movement is critical. This exercise regime is best implemented under the supervision of a specialist or physiotherapist who will ensure the appropriate milestones are achieved. A premature return to sport while joint motion is still limited can predispose the patient to further injury.
Regaining a normal walking pattern and muscle strength
A normal walking pattern means that there is a normal weight transfer from the feet to the knee, hip and back. An abnormal walking pattern could be due to pain, weakness or muscle imbalance, and must be addressed before returning to sports.
A period of rest and disuse typically results in muscle wasting, sometimes even in uninjured body parts. A key component of muscle strengthening is resistance training which improves balance, reflex control and endurance in the injured tissues. This is often implemented along with conditioning and endurance training to prepare the injured area for a faster return to sports.
Supplements and a healthy diet
There are numerous foods and supplements that help the body heal faster after an injury. Protein-rich foods such as meat and fish enhance the body’s muscle-building process. Citrus fruits and dark leafy greens rich in vitamin C help produce collagen that rebuilds tissues, and has anti-inflammatory properties. Omega-3 fats from supplements limit excessive inflammation and helps speed up recovery. With bone injuries such as fractures, taking more calcium-rich foods and vitamin D from sunlight exposure is essential.
In summary, an early recovery from a sports injury requires managing the early healing process of the injured area and a having tailored rehabilitation strategy. Seeking help and guidance from a specialist while being careful not to further aggravate the injury can make all the difference in recovery time.