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Don't Play with Pain
Five common recreational injuries and what to do about them
If you feel pain after exercising, apply ice for up to 20 minutes, and rest.
Date: 5/20/2009

As more people are exercising for good health, it’s important to know how to warm up, exercise properly, and recognize when you’ve pushed your body too far. While occasional aches and pains are common, painful injuries need to be handled properly to avoid long-term problems.

Preventing injuries is even better. “Injuries occur when people aren’t stretching and strengthening muscles that protect joints,” says Michael Duch, MD, RWJ Hamilton orthopedic surgeon. “A workout program should include equal amounts of endurance, strength and flexibility training.”

Muscles also need to be properly warmed up, adds Steve Demkowicz, rehabilitation supervisor. Then they need to be rested for at least 24 hours after exercise. “While some challenge is good, you run the risk of developing micro-tears you may not even feel if you overdo it. They can lead to a muscle tear and joint damage.”

If you feel pain after exercising, apply ice for up to 20 minutes, and rest. If it’s not gone within three days, or you have pain with swelling or tingling, see your doctor.

Common recreational injuries:

Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome

Causing pain around the kneecap, Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome occurs mostly from improper tracking of the kneecap. “Running and exercises like deep squats and lunges wear down kneecaps,” Duch says. “Pain may come while you run or later.” Prevent pain by strengthening the quadricep muscles to help the kneecap track properly.

Treatment: If you have pain, rest the joint and try swimming for awhile, then start patellofemoral strengthening exercises. If these don’t work, an orthopedic surgeon may need to surgically realign the patella.

Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) Injuries

The ACL provides stability in the knee. It can be stretched or torn by a sudden twisting. “You will probably hear a popping sound, and the leg may give way,” advises Duch. This will be accompanied by pain and swelling in the knee. More women than men are affected by ACL injuries.

Treatment: ACL injuries must be evaluated by an orthopedic specialist. Initially, elevate and immobilize the joint and apply ice. Ibuprofen can decrease pain and swelling. Surgery may be needed to reconstructt he ACL.

Torn Meniscus

This cartilage between the thigh bone (femur) and the tibia (shin bone) can tear in the same way the ACL tears. You may hear a click or pop, or the knee may lock or feel weak. Pain and swelling can occur at the time of injury or later.

Treatment: A small tear can often be treated with rest and physical therapy, while a large tear may require arthroscopic surgery.

Ankle Sprain

When the ligaments surrounding the ankle joint are stretched or torn, you may hear a snap or pop, and will likely experience pain and swelling.

Treatment: Sprains are treated with rest, ice, compression and elevation (think RICE). Ibuprofen can help reduce swelling and pain. For minor injuries, increase activity gradually. More severe injuries may require a brace or cast. If you have significant swelling, especially in the front, go to the emergency department. Physical therapy can help strengthen the ankle and prevent future injuries.

Hamstring Injuries

The hamstring muscles run from the pelvis to the lower leg bones. Injuries can range from minor strains to total rupture of the muscle.You may feel a sudden, sharp pain in the back of the thigh or have trouble extending your knee.

Treatment: Start with rest and ice. Once pain and swelling subside, add warm-ups, stretching and muscle strengthening to your workout to prevent future injuries.

“Muscle strains occur more often as we age and become less flexible,” Duch says, who is fellowship-trained in sports medicine. “People often skip flexibility exercises, but they are important. I like to see both men and women in Pilates and yoga classes as well as the weight room.”


A Good Start

A trainer or physical therapist can tailor an exercise program to your needs as well as any medical conditions you may have.

“Even a few sessions can help you learn how to exercise properly, whether you work out in a gym or at home,” Demkowicz says.

Prevent Injuries with a Proper Warm-Up

  • Start with a brisk jog and arm movement at least 15 minutes prior to physical activity to get blood flowing to muscles.
  • Then stretch each joint twice, moving slowly and gently in every direction.
  • After exercise, gradually decrease activity to a slow jog and walk for five to 10 minutes, then slowly, gently stretch again to return muscles to a natural state.

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