It’s that time of year again… Overuse injuries are back ! How to manage shin splints, golf elbow, & other weekend wreckers
It’s official… Spring is here!
Depending on where you are in the U.S., you may have started to venture outside to begin shaking off that Winter hibernation mode. As Spring sports begin to come into play (hahaha), overuse injuries once again ruin peoples weekends & plans. Let’s discuss the most common injuries people encounter and what to do about them if/when they do rear their ugly head.
For those of us who are eager to get out of the house, Spring is both an exciting and stressful time. It’s the time of year we are all made aware of just how out of shape we ended up after the Winter, and reminded of how painful those first few weeks of getting back into the groove of your favorite sport can be. Usually most people start by revisiting their equipment, reviewing and organizing what they have and the shape it is in, then moving on to a formulating plan for that first week or two of significant activity, and lastly struggling through the aches and pains until your body has adapted. Here are suggestions to survive those very first two to three weeks with as little discomfort as possible:
- Make a plan… a conservative & flexible plan. Map out those first 7 to 14 days, but allow yourself to modify if needed because of soreness, or if you find out your equipment needs to be tuned up, or swapped out.
- Consider a supplement specifically to help with muscle soreness. Some folks are weary of supplements, others swear by them… but it’s hard to know what is hype and what really works. There are clear and Scientifically validated benefits to supplementing at the start of, and during, a sports season. For more on this topic check out our ebook on Supplements for Active People & Recreational Athletes.
- Stay hydrated, focus on protein after your workouts/practice, and get adequate rest.
Once you have survived those first few weeks, and feel like you have established a baseline of cardiovascular fitness and muscle strength is when you are most likely to injure yourself. This is when the overuse injuries can start to come into the picture. You are feeling good, stepping up your mileage, playing 18 holes for the first time, or going for that extra batting practice. And sometimes we bite off a bit more than our bodies are ready to chew, and pay the price. Usually within 6-12 hours you KNOW you overdid it. But then what? What is the best way to manage those overuse injuries? How can you get back into your groove as soon as possible with minimal setback? These are the questions weekend warriors and newbies struggle to answer. Let’s talk broadly and then then look at a few specific examples.
First, there is no way around the fact that when an injury pops up; Yes, it WILL require you to step back from your current schedule to recover and heal. But in most cases you can find some option that helps preserve some level of fitness so you are not starting again from zero. Think about cross training options that involve different motions, but allow you to keep your cardiovascular engagement (elliptical, rowing, stationary bike, etc). Most injuries arise either out of repetitive motion or an awkward/unnatural movement of the body. Injuries that happens as a direct result of the repetitive nature of your sport of choice include shin splints (repetitive motion = steps), golf elbow (repetitive motion = swings), and in order to heal and get over the injury you have to stop the repetitive motion and allow the inflammation to work itself out. In other cases where the injuries are related to an overextension or awkward movement (ankle sprain, shoulder strain), again time is needed to allow the healing of damaged tissue, but the origin of the problem is not the motion itself it was a collision, overexertion, or misstep.
There is a saying ‘money is the root of all evil’… well recreational athletes know that it’s actually inflammation that is evil. In general, aches and pains after exercise and most (if not all) injuries include moderate inflammation, so here’s a recap on what is known about at-home treatments.
Everybody knows ice helps… first thing anyone will tell you is ‘Go stick some ice on that’. Ice is good, but contrast therapy is better, much better. Contrast therapy reduces pain & swelling, allows recovery from injuries with reduced pain medications, and is helpful even when you are not injured (quicker recovery after exercise). Contrast therapy is a fancy sounding name for alternating application of cold and hot to an affected area. Apply ice or an ice pack (use a paper towel or very thin cloth between your skin and the bag of ice or icepack) to the area of injury for 10 – 15 minutes then apply mild to moderate heat (try putting rice in an old sock, tying off and popping in microwave for 60 seconds) again leave in place for 10-15 minutes, then repeat the ice step. Always start and end with cold treatments. Consider buying a box of small paper dixie cups, filling about half full and freezing overnight, then peel off the top of the cup exposing the ice but leaving a place to hold the cup while you rub over the area of injury. Contrast therapy is particularly effective in treatment of an overuse injury & strains and sprains, but be careful about using hot compresses immediately after getting hurt, or where obvious swelling is still apparent.
Any way you slice it, there is some short term easing off needed to allow healing and recovery back to 100% function. During this time, what strategies can you use to 1- get smarter and avoid this frustrating and painful issue in the future, and 2- minimize the impact on your season. When an injury happens, read up on it… understand why and how it happened so you can take steps to avoid this issue in the future. Yes, you have golfer’s elbow, but do you know the part of your body that is inflamed? What motion in particular is associated with this injury? Are there drills or exercises you can do to strengthen that muscle or other compensatory body parts that can help reduce the strain & in turn reduce the likelihood of another injury? Are there support items you can purchase to help recover and prevent another injury (brace, KT tape, etc)? Is the injury a result of worn out equipment? Perhaps the injury you have is NOT from only one of these factors, maybe there are several contributing? Get smart about not only what the problem is, but why it happened and take steps to avoid this in the future. It’s no doubt frustrating to have to ease off your plans, but when you get informed about what is going on, why it happened, and what you are doing to prevent it from happening again those feelings of frustration & disappointment are replaced with a plan to avoid revisiting this in the future. Revisit other activities you can do that don’t hurt, non-impact options like elliptical trainers, stationary bikes and rowing machines may not be ‘your thing’ but in the short term they can help you not lose fitness while you recover.
Here’s my personal anecdote on overuse injuries, and how I am currently dealing with the disruption it causes. My daughter and I have as our 2018 New Year’s Resolution to run a half marathon together in the Fall. This will be her first half, and longest distance to date, with mostly 5k’s under her belt. I set my training plan beginning on February 1st, was out for that first run on January 31st, ahead of schedule and was immediately reminded of just how awful the first two weeks of getting back into shape can be. But I stuck with it, and little by little I rebuilt my cardiovascular fitness and was able to manage a respectable 3 mile training run by mid March. The weather has not been cooperating, the ground is a mess with ice, snow, salt, sand, and bits of tree branches all over. But, I hate the treadmill so much that when it started to get up to about 40 degrees outside I was bundling up and heading out for my runs. Using MapMyRun, I had some great routes sketched out, investigating some new areas, and enjoying some consistency in my 3-4 mile runs. And last Tuesday that all came to an abrupt halt when I woke to discover I had fantastic posters shin splints in my right leg. Oh joy. I started with the NSAIDs, and I ran through the pain but cut back my distance. I revisited the treadmill for softer surface, but it just got worse. I was forced to admit I needed a full few days off to recover. So I refreshed my memory of what causes posterior shin splints (which are different than regular shin splints), and realized I had several issues in play… using old worn out shoes (trying to spare my new trainers from the muddy water), uneven surfaces (my new routes had significantly sloping road edges), my gait (I am a mid foot striker and land heavy on the outside edge, the motion which put significant strain right in the wrong spot), and hill terrain (my new routes had a few respectable climbs). So all these things together were affecting my situation. Back to the drawing board I went. I mapped out new runs in varying distances with a keen eye towards elevation gains over the route, then drove the course to check the road conditions and make sure the edges did not slope too sharply, and threw out my old shoes so I would not be tempted to use them again. And while I have been sidelined for a few days, I have felt like I have used that time to help prevent the likelihood of ending up in this spot again. I am looking forward to getting back out on the road, and as luck would have it there are some great mid-50’s temps arriving mid week to help get me back out there even if for a shorter distance than I had originally planned.