Treating sports people can be challenging. No avid runner, footballer, rugby player I know likes to be stopped in their tracks due to an injury! Many continue to run through pain until the pain becomes too much. Relieving their pain is one thing; but to create improvements so the pain does not return is much tougher. Almost always, it requires knowing their previous injury history.
Every sports injury invariably changes the way you move.
Pain changes the brain. I have written extensively in the past in these articles how pain is an output from the brain or a fight or flight response. Serious injuries like a fall, a surgery, a fracture, an ankle sprain and torn muscle or ligament can change how you move because of the pain that the injury causes. The brain will automatically find "alternative movement strategies" to keep you moving. This is a basic survival instinct! If something hurts - or is damaged - the brain will find another way to move your body so that it doesn't hurt or hurt as bad. Too often, especially with running or sports injuries, that new strategy becomes the "new normal". The compensation "sticks" and the brain adopts it as normal. Unfortunately, most of the time we don't even realise we are doing it. Hence, we end up moving less efficiently, this in turn causes more aches and pains (this can happen anywhere in the body) and new injuries.
How do we avoid this happening?
1) Listen to pain - it's telling you something isn't right,
2) Never run through an injury.
3) Rest. Allow tissues to heal maximally
4) Be proactive. Don't leave it for a few days or weeks hoping it will go away, It might feel better, but ask yourself has the injury healed or have you just been compensating?
Why previous injuries are important
When I begin working with an athlete, I always ask if they can remember previous injuries especially when the person didn't have an acute 'incident', like a twist or a fall. In sports people, where the pain develops or gradually increases over time there is always an underlying cause. For example, for a runner with left foot pain:- I may ask "did you ever hurt your RIGHT knee or ankle a long time ago?". This concept is important to not only cover the bases with injury rehab, but also to find the true cause of a given injury.
For example, many athletes with hip pain on one side may have a history of foot, ankle or knee pain on the opposite leg (the extending, push-off leg). A weak push off one side makes for a sloppy, painful landing on the other. In essence, the area you have the pain may not be the problem. This is where you feel the pain because that area is now completely overloaded because something else is not doing it's job.
As you can see to truly fix an injury for good may mean unlocking movement compensations your body has developed. This will mean going through a step by step graded rehab program. It is important to address "the elephant in the room" first. To a runner that could be poor rotation, a weak hamstring or an elevated rib cage. Whatever it is, it must be addressed. Skipping steps along the way means you may never get to the root cause of the problem.