It’s always a tough time when you get injured doing any sort of activity. You could be simply doing some yard work outside when your back gives out. Maybe it was the day you played basketball with your friends and juked the wrong way. Or maybe, if you are like me, it was over a simple move as a dancer that you have done dozens of times, and your shoulder made a loud snapping, popping noise. Either way, injuries happen; they are a part of our daily lives. And as long as we are doing physical activity of any sort, we are bound to get them.
There are no magic tricks to healing injuries, media or commercials be darned. If it were that easy, injuries wouldn’t be such a hot topic for athletes, and there wouldn’t be constant commercials for alleviating pain. There are, however, a variety of ways that have been proven (and somewhat unproven depending on who you ask) to treat and deal with a variety of injures. And as I am going through my own with my shoulder and recovering, I thought it would be helpful for all of us to better learn how to take care of our bodies physically.
Our bodies may be different, but by going over the initial basics of injury treatment, we can ensure healthy recovery and better preparation for the next time it occurs.
First, it is important for us to cover our bases on the types of injuries that can occur to individuals. You would be surprised to know that some people don’t know the differences between them! It’s because of that that people get hurt more frequently, or don’t heal as efficiently as they could. To elaborate, the most common injuries that happen to people from doing physical activity and/or exercise are as follows:
Strains/Pulls – When a muscle or tendon (tissue that connects the muscles to bones) is stretched or torn.
Sprains – When a ligament (the tissue that connects two or more bones at a joint) is stretched or torn.
Contusions/Bruising – When a muscle or part of the body is struck repeatedly from something blunt, or taking hard blunt contact once from falling or jamming the body.
Of course, there are a variety of other major sports related injuries as well, such as MCL/ACL tears, dislocated joints, Patellofemoral syndrome, etc., but right now we are just going to cover the more common ones that everyone seems to have to deal with, whether you are a gym-goer, athlete, or everyday guy.
As stated above, strains, also knowns as “pulled” muscles, deal with the muscles and tendons that connect the muscle to bone. These, just like sprains, can vary a lot in degree of severity. It’s definitely important, regardless of whether you go to a medical professional or not for diagnosis, to have a somewhat decent knowledge of progression for all injuries. Why? Because if you’re like me, you don’t always want to go to the doctor; or have time to go; or you can’t afford to spend money just for someone to tell you what you already figured out. Obviously, if it is a severe injury or a detriment to your normal activities then yes, you should definitely visit a doctor or medical professional! But otherwise, it’s nice to know these degrees for your own self-diagnosis.
As stated by ACSM, there are three degrees of strains. The first degree is the mildest, and you can think of it as just a really annoying pain. It’s not stopping you from doing anything really, but it can be a bit tender to the touch and can be inconvenient. Moving on, the second degree is moderate; there is definitely pain involved, and limited motion. This is the degree you actually tear the muscle. There might also be some swelling in this stage. Third degree is absolutely the worst; this is when the muscle or tendon is completely torn. You aren’t moving it at all, and there are tears probably coming out of your eyes. Go to a doctor or hospital if you feel you have a third degree strain!
Similarly, sprains also have varying degrees of severity. Unlike strains, however, sprains deal with the ligaments that attach bones together at the joints. They are not in fact, the same as strains, which deal with the actual muscles and tendons. Again, and I can’t stress this enough, if you feel as though any of these injuries are preventing you from living life or doing activities you normally do, go see a doctor.
First degree sprains are once again, just like their first degree strain counterparts, mildly inconvenient and annoying. You are fully stable here, but you know, it still hurts a bit. Second degree sprains are a bit trickier, as you have torn the ligaments and it is definitely painful. You probably are experiencing some instability, and you might have some swelling at wherever the injury occurred. Last, third degree sprains are the most severe. It is at this point you have destroyed the ligament; the joint is completely unstable, the pain is severe, and often times other tissues are also damaged. Once again, you need to go to a hospital!
Contusions and bruising though are completely unlike the other two injuries. Maybe the only commonality they have with strains is that it can affect the muscles, but even then it’s not really close to the same type of injury. Contusions occur when you rupture capillaries and induce some bleeding from blunt force trauma. They can still be a big limiter on whatever you are doing though, and can still be extremely painful depending on the type of bruising you suffer from. So it is worth noting that contusions also are classified into degrees just like the first two injuries we talked about.
According to Vitality Clinic, first degree contusions are your normal bruises—they have mild and annoying pain, and maybe some limited swelling and stiffness. Second degree is a moderate rupture of the capillaries, and as such there is more swelling, some discoloration (more noticeable) and pain involved. Wherever the contusion occurred, you are probably experiencing moderate pain and limited movement. Third degree contusions is a major rupture, and as a result you see a ton of swelling (overly noticeable to any observer), very definitive discoloration, severe pain, and on top of that you probably don’t want to use or move that area of your body.
Treating the injuries
Luckily for you, all three of these injuries have a common bond. They all share the same basic treatment method first and foremost! That treatment would be RICE, or Restricted activity/Rest, Ice, Compress, Elevate. But why RICE? Why does that even work? Good question.
Simply put, RICE is the optimal way of making sure your body heals normally with less complications. It ensures that whatever healing needs to happen can do so without aggravating the injury further. How? Restricted activity and rest guarantees that you won’t go making the injury worse; this is critical for anyone who wants to return to physical activity as soon as possible. Continuing to overwork and push whatever has been strained, sprained or bruised will only slow the healing process and make the inactive period last longer!
Putting ice on an injury is also key to recovery because it reduces the swelling and bleeding. And although these days there is conflicting evidence and argument going on in the sports science world about whether ice really helps some sports injuries, the main take away from using ice is that it controls inflammation. When you reduce inflammation, you give your body a chance to relieve the initial pressure from the injury and reduce stress on the affected area. Plus, you can get back to doing what you normally do quicker.
Compression involves reducing swelling more by wrapping the injury with a bandage, stocking or sleeve. By doing this you are allowing blood flow to return to normal, and although swelling is a natural bodily reaction to an injury, too much swelling as stated causes unnecessary pressure and blood vessel restriction. Whichever way you compress the injury—be it a bandage, stocking or sleeve—you need to make sure you give yourself some movement, but enough restriction to not move too freely.
And last but certainly not least is elevating the injury. Elevating the injury increases and promotes the return of blood to circulation through your body. It helps reduce the pain and swelling that is likely happening, and because of the blood flow, is giving your body a chance to focus on circulating blood normally to the injured area so as to heal normally and at an optimal rate.
I am—when it comes to my dancing and exercise—an impatient person. I want to push myself constantly, and kind of overwork so that I can really say I am giving my all to my craft. But I will be the first to tell you that rest and patience are integral to getting back to form in whatever you are doing after suffering a strain, sprain, or any kind of injury. If you think “toughing it out” is a viable solution, what you are actually doing is giving your body an escape route for more rest. And by that I mean increasing your chances of making things worse, and being completely out of physical activity for an even longer time than if you had just taken things easy and rehabilitated correctly!
Stay diligent while you are out of commission. Don’t fret, get too negative or give up. Find alternatives to keep you sharp. For example, I believe keeping the mind sharp by studying movement, creating new original concepts of moves and watching my nutrition through dieting are all still forms of training and ensuring I can pick up right where I left off.
God’s just giving you a chance to hone yourself in other areas while strengthening you physically and getting you ready to get back to doing what you were made for.
Written by: Michael “Bboy Roach1” Roach