We have all been there, training for your A race is going well, you feel strong and confident and then out of no where, what seems like disaster strikes ; an unexplained pain appears.
Pain is the body\'s message to us that something isn\'t quite as it should be. It can be considered an early warning sign - to stop and rest the injured part so that something more serious doesnt develop. Pain is an impulse sent from an area of the body to alert the brain that something is wrong. The natural response is for you to stop doing whatever it is that causes the pain.
Unfortunately, this automatic warning system does not always work. Instead of seeking help and backing off from exercise, some of us have a tendancy to grit our teeth and push through the pain, with the misplaced belief that we will work it off and the pain will disappear.
Its important to rest for two reasons. Firstly pain can signify a specific injury or can be due to an underlying (systemic) problem, which commonly affects more than one joint or muscle e.g circulatory issues , heart disease and neurological conditions. If you have ongoing pain or discomfort that does not ease with rest or that keeps returning you should seek medical advice. Remember that pain is a sensory alarm that your body uses to tell you that something isn\'t quite right.
The second reason to rest is to prevent a chronic injury developing, which takes far longer to heal, requires a longer rest period which can sometimes result in a loss of training gains i.e. strength and fitness.
For example a shoulder twinge after swimming may be your body\'s way of telling you that your hand entry into the water is slightly off and that you should check on your alignment and muscle control around the shoulder. If you ignore this twinge and continue to swim it could increase in severity, becoming a stubborn pain that doesn\'t shift. This is because whatever is causing the pain e.g. straining a tendon, doesn\'t go away and inflammation and swelling in the surrounding tissues can develop. Masking this with pain killers and continuing to do what you\'ve been doing will not resolve the issue. You have now developed a chronic injury and could be forced to rest for much longer than if you had sought help initially.
Imagine hitting your thumb with a hammer repeatedly and trying to take painkillers to stop it from hurting. Pretty soon the pain killers will become ineffective because your thumb will be so swollen and painful that they cannot control the pain levels. Put like this it sounds fairly ridiculous, who in their right mind would repeatedly hit their hand with a hammer? But this is exactly what you are doing when you continue to exercise when injured and ignore the symptoms.
When an injury become chronic, it is ongoing lasting for weeks or months. It also has more chance of reoccurring, partly as a result of scar tissue developing and also due to muscle imbalances which can start to develop as your body tries to protect the injured area. This can sometimes lead to secondary problems which also then go on to require treatment.
Scar tissue develops as a result of ongoing inflammation in the soft tissues of the body. It is a natural product of healing and ordinarily is nothing to be concerned about. It has an important role in bridging the gap between the healthy tissue, replacing that which has been damaged. It is composed of slightly differently, being more fibrous and less elastic, than the surrounding soft tissue and because of this it is important to try and limit its development as much as possible.
RICE is one of the easiest ways to try and manage an acute injury. R= REST, I= ICE, E=ELEVATION, C=COMPRESSION. This can help reduce inflammation and swelling, thereby reducing the pressure on the soft tissues which have become sensitive and painful. Non steroidal anti-inflammatories can be useful in some instances but you should check with a medical practitioner whether it is safe for you to take these, and whether it is appropriate. Although they can help reduce inflammation and swelling they can have side effects in some people which are undesirable. They should never be relied on as a fix or as a substitution for diagnosis and treatment. They will not prevent re-occurrence of an injury.
Seeking professional help is the quickest and most effective way of managing an injury. Physiotherapists can diagnose the source of symptoms and explain why they have occurred. This is important because it helps tailor treatment towards preventing further injuries occurring. Addressing the cause is just as important, if not more so than treating the symptoms themselves.
Once pain and symptoms have begun to reduce you can usually make a gradual return to exercise. This is an important point to note because diving straight back into your exercise at full steam can be a guaranteed way of re-injuring yourself. Gradual and graded return ensures that the injury is exposed to the stresses of exercise in a controlled way, which helps to strengthen the tissues. A sudden increase in activity e.g. nothing for 2 weeks and then an 18 mile run, could result in the area becoming inflamed again as the healing tissues are not fully prepared to cope with the stresses and forces subjected to them. This then leads to more time off to allow the newly inflamed area to settle and is a classic example of how chronic injuries begin.
Finally, remember that if your injury is aggravated by a certain action, that there are usually lots of other ways to exercise whilst letting your injury heal, therefore allowing you to maintain your fitness. Often non weight bearing exercises can replace those weight bearing ones that aggravate an injury. Strengthening and core work are vital to recovery and should be thought of as a positive step in the rehabilitation process. Following this simple guideline can lead to people discovering a whole new love for a sport that they did not know they even liked! Even if you cannot exercise at all you should remember that in this case, doing nothing is better than doing something which will make your injury worse and lead to increased time away from the sport you love. Rest only makes you stronger.
Steps to follow if you develop pain, swelling, redness or other symptoms:
Stop what you are doing
Follow the RICE regime
Seek professional help – Physiotherapists are experts in the diagnosis