Stop the Pain: Dealing with Sports Injuries for Everyday Folks

34 knee pain

Injuries suck and over the years I have been injured a lot. I played high school and college football and after football I played rugby for a long time. So with almost 20 years of contact sports under my belt I’ve had all sorts of injuries.

Most were minor but there were some that left me sidelined for months. There are also a few that that still linger and affect my workouts to this day.

Injuries can be tough to deal with. In addition to the physical challenges of not being able to perform or train properly, there is also the psychological aspect of not being at your peak.

So what can you do when you get bit by the injury bug? Keep reading for a few tips on what has worked for me and my clients

Injury Prevention

It sounds ridiculously obvious but the best way to get over an injury is to never get them. Yes, this is an optimistic statement, because if you play a sport hard enough for long enough, you will get hurt. Even when you are weight training in a safe-controlled environment, injuries can still happen.

No amount of training and preparation can help you to become totally injury free but you can minimize your risk significantly with the proper techniques.

The right preparation can also help to minimize the extent injury. Someone who is out of shape will usually get injured more seriously than someone who is in shape, provided that the stresses to their bodies are exactly the same.

Get rid of imbalances

34 foam rollingThe first thing to look for when trying to prevent injuries is any incorrect movement patterns. Having a professional evaluate overhead squat assessment test can really shed some light on how your body is moving and if there are any compensations occurring.

The 2 main causes of these imbalances are usually a sedentary lifestyle or improper recovery from a past injury. Corrective stretching can help solve issue cause by either of these.

Most people have jobs where they sit a lot. This puts their hip flexors in a tight position for a long period of time and can cause weakness in those muscles. This can lead to the body compensating for that weakness and the development of faulty movement patterns.

Most people that I work with start out with a lot of tightness in their hip joint. Rolling with a foam roller or lacrosse ball can help to loosen up some of these tight muscles. If the muscles are retrained and optimal movement patterns are re-learned, this can decrease one’s chance for injury.

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The neck and shoulder area are other common areas of tightness, so stretching and/or rolling these may also be important.

Past injuries can also lead to a lot of compensations. Remember no bodypart gets injured in isolation.

For example if you injure your ankle, that can lead to a decreased range of motion in that joint. Because of the lack of mobility in that ankle, the body may start to compensate at the hip joint and develop tightness there. This can lead to pain in the lower back, poor posture, etc.

Getting rid of the tightness or compensation at the root is the key. In the example above, let’s say that the ankle immobility causes a bunch of compensations that led to lower back pain.

In that example some people might work the lower back to get rid of the pain. If the pain is being cause by compensations caused by the ankle not moving properly the pain will keep coming back unless the flexibility in the ankle is addressed.

Training to Prevent Injuries

34 bosu squatIn my opinion the best overall exercises are the most basic power movements. These are the bench press, squat and deadlift. It’s not very glamorous going old school with your exercises, but they get the best results for strength, and help tremendously with building muscle and burning fat.

Even though these are my three favorite movements, they aren’t always the most beneficial in terms of preventing injuries.

I like to incorporate a few unstable, functional exercises into a workout program. These exercises challenge your balance, stability and force you to activate you core.

Doing an exercise on one leg will require more balance and stability than on two legs. Doing an exercise standing on two legs will require more balance and stability than an exercise that is performed seated.

Since an unstable exercise is more challenging to the stabilizing muscles of the body, the weight you will be able to handle will decrease.

So that is the tradeoff with these exercises. Since the weight is decreased, the amount of strength and muscle you can build will also be decreased. This is why I don’t do workouts that use exclusively functional exercises except when I am working with beginners.


I Got Hurt… What next

34 ankle injuryEven with the best preparation and a body with minimal imbalances, shit still happens. You can get hit the wrong way, take an odd step, have a bad rep… whatever. Some injuries are not serious and others will require medical attention.

I’ll cover some of the things that worked for me when dealing with most minor injuries. If an injury is major though…be smart and see a doctor.

If you are not sure if you need to see a doctor, GO SEE ONE. It is better to be safe than sorry. There are just some injuries that you cannot rehab on your own and if something doesn’t feel right get it checked out.

You also must remember that no 2 injuries are the same. I’ve had my ankle sprained a bunch. Once someone got tackled by a teammate and both players fell on my ankle, another time I stepped in a hole while running, there were also many times where I landed on someone’s foot and then there other times where I just stepped wrong.

I can tell you that even though they were all sprains, the recovery time and the rehab I did for each one was different. Sometimes there was a lot of swelling and I was on crutches for weeks and other times I was able to keep playing and there was hardly any recover time.

So what should you do if you have an injury? R.I.C.E. works pretty well immediately following soft tissue injuries.

R.I.C.E. It

34 R.I.C.E. No… I’m not talking about the stuff you eat. The R.I.C.E. I mean is an acronym for Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation.

Rest is an important part of the healing process. Continuing to “work though” an injury will slow down or stop the recovery process. As mentioned before, no body part is injured in isolation so continuing to use an injured area may lead the body to compensate which can lead to other problems.

For me, skipping a workout because of an injury is the worst part about getting hurt, but it is necessary to get back to functioning at 100%

The exact rest period needed will be different for every injury so listen to your body and take the time it needs.

Ice applied to an injury is normally used to reduce swelling and inflammation. It is generally best when used as soon as possible and loses it’s effectiveness after a few days.

When icing a body part the recommended duration is about 10-15 minutes per hour. Doing it for longer can actually diminish it’s effects and can cause frostbite.

Ice is normally not used for chronic injuries although and depending on what it is, it may actually make it worse.

Compression is also used to reduce swelling. An elastic ACE type bandage works the best and can speed up the healing process and can also reduce pain.

As with ice, compression is not a long term solution and is usually best with acute injuries.

Elevation is another method that helps in reducing swelling. This allows gravity to get some of the fluid away from the injury.

As with ice and compression, elevation is not a long-term solution and is usually only done with acute injuries.

Getting Your Groove Back

Once you’ve done your best to deal with an injury in the short term the next step is rehab. Since all injuries are different, the recovery process will be different for each injury.

I am not a physical therapist or a doctor so I won’t go into too much detail here, but I will cover a few things that I look for when I’m recovering and when I am helping my clients recover.

Keep the right mindset

Trying to stay positive when you are hurt is challenging but important. Positivity can affect your entire body and help to speed up your recovery time. Negativity will do the opposite.

You will need to set new some new goals for yourself and your workouts. Focus on hitting these new goals instead of worrying about your old ones. (At least until you’ve recovered.)

What I like to do is to stay focused on the next workout. My workouts are modified when I am hurt since I am trying to work around the body part that is injured. (It is not beneficial to try and work through and injury.)

Don’t get discouraged while you are hurt. I like to tell my clients that a workout at 40% is better than a workout at 0%.

There are so many different exercises that hopefully you can find a few that don’t cause pain. This is one circumstance where machines may be better than free-weights.

Pain-Free Movement

34 hip flexor stretchBefore I start training an injury again, I will usually wait until I can do the move without pain. This is where patience comes in. Sometimes it can be quick but then there are other times that the wait just kills.

Applying heat works for some injuries. I usually use heat when there is tightness and I want to loosen up the muscles and joints. There is some debate on when to use heat instead of ice. The general rule is that ice is for acute injuries and heat is for chronic injuries.

Depending on how it feels, I will try and stretch to get back the range of motion. The timing of when to stretch can be tricky though. I want to stretch as soon as possible, but if the injury is not healed enough, the stretching can aggravate it and make it worse.

Pushing for the range of motion is also a tricky thing. At some point you want to push the stretch further to increase the range of motion but doing it too soon can slow the recovery. This is where it is important to listen to your body.

Return to the Weights

34 light bench pressWhen I can move through an exercise without pain I will use whatever weight I can that does not give me pain. Getting some blood flowing to the injured area can help speed the recovery.

Using the proper weight is key. This is where you need to play it safe and not start to push yet. This can be a big blow to the ego at times though.

There are a lot of times when I’m benching just the bar after a shoulder injury. It’s kind of embarrassing, but I know in the long run it’s better to just focus on the movement and not the weight.

When I am rehabbing my rep range is pretty high. My focus here it to build back the stamina that may have been lost. Since the weight is so light, I’m shooting for around 20-30 reps.

There are times when I let my ego get the best of me and I start adding on the weights but if I do it too soon I always pay for it the next day. Just like with stretching, this is another phase where it’s important to listen to your body.

Returning to Form

34 bench pressAs I start slowly adding the weight back in, making sure I am using the proper form is important. Since other muscles will compensate for injuries it’s really important to make sure that the correct muscles are firing for the movement I am doing.

This is where having a trainer or workout partner can come in handy so they can monitor your form. For some exercises a mirror would work if you know what to look for.

If my form is good and the movement is not causing any pain, I’ll add weight. If my form breaks or the pain returns, I’ll drop the weight back down.

I will also throw in some unstable exercises to help build the stabilizing muscles that might have atrophied during the recovery.

As my weight starts to return, I’ll bring my reps back down to their normal range.

Final Thoughts

So that is my advice that I have for minimizing and dealing with injuries. This was based on my many years of trial and error and what I learned from all the time I’ve spent in a physical therapist’s office.

This was not based on medical studies but be smart and listen to your body.

If something doesn’t feel right, have a doctor check it out. They have X-ray and MRIs that can identify if there is anything that requires special attention.

What tips do you have for recovering from an injury? Leave a comment below or in the facebook group. Thanks for reading.