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What is the best way of treating sports injuries?

The injuries we pick up when playing sports fall into two main classes. In contact sports, there are serious risks of broken bones, torn tendons or ligaments, or strains. The other less physical sports leave it to the players to damage themselves by repeating the same muscle movements excessively. So tennis, badminton and squash players find repetitive strain injury to their elbows. Runners damage their knees. Focussing on the muscle injuries, strains and tears always have the same pattern. You damage the tissue in the muscles or ligaments, and this produces inflammation. Pain, swelling and loss of function follow. For a professional athlete, being unable to turn out for the team or to play the next big tournament can have serious financial implications. Doctors who specialize in sports injuries are therefore employed by all the top teams in football, baseball and soccer. The plan is always to get the stars back on the field again as quickly as possible. Except this can be controversial because, sometimes, treatment is accelerated for a particular match rather than for the benefit of the player’s long-term career. Many top players have had their careers cut short by knee injuries when their teams owner’s were too ambitious for success.

The inflammation is actually the first stage in the healing process. It encourages the growth of scar tissue that binds the torn tissue back together again. Doctors interfere in this natural cycle. The problem is simple. The average cycle of inflammation lasts about five days but, sometimes, it can go on too long and this delays the resumption of training. Thus, the first response is rest during the one or two days following injury. Therapies vary. Pick from heat, cold, compression, elevation and, where money is no object, the use of expensive technology like hyperbaric chambers. Drugs can be used to dull the pain, reduce the inflammation and so speed up the healing process. If the player is finding the affected muscles tensing up, skelaxin is the standard response the relax the affected muscles.

It’s important to understand that painkillers, anti-inflammatories and muscle relaxants do not treat the injury itself. Their only effect is to make you more comfortable during the initial phase of the healing process. Assuming surgery is not indicated for a more serious injury, say to the knee, your body will (slowly) heal itself. Except, of course, where money, status or pride is involved, people will spend the money and invest the time to improve on the natural process. Although everyone should always wait before resuming training, the passion and commitment that makes good players into the best also drives them to take shortcuts. So, with the help of skelaxin during the resting phase, the player can slowly move on to stretching exercises and, initially, gentle exercise to regain mobility in the affected area. It’s best if no painkillers are used. Pain is a very useful warning you are trying too hard. There’s a serious risk you will aggravate the injury if you resume full training too early. Unless there’s a particular reason why you have to play, you should only move through the training regime at a safe pace. The risk of long-term damage and even longer layoffs is waiting to overtake you. In all this, you should be guided by your doctor and physical therapist. Assuming they are offering independent advice, they should guide you back to a long and successful playing career (whether as a professional or an amateur).