Sports injuries can happen to anyone, just about any time you move – whether you’re doing an intense workout at the gym, or just cleaning out the garage. When it does, it’s important to know the facts about common home remedies and what you can do to help prevent an injury in the first place.
David Buck, MD, is a sports medicine specialist with Kettering Health Network, a faculty member at Wright State University’s Kettering Sports Medicine Fellowship Program, and team physician for several educational and professional sports organizations. He has seen his share of home remedies and offers his advice to help separate the facts from the fiction.
How to use ice
Icing an injury will help slow bleeding and prevent swelling. Applying ice packs can safely and temporarily reduce the pain for no more than 5- to 10-minute intervals, that way it does not interfere with the body’s natural healing process. However, it has a downside too.
“Now we know that icing may not prevent but potentially harm the healing process,” Dr. Buck explained. “Ice is known to shrink blood vessels, and by doing that, decreases blood flow to the area, which could help decrease inflammation. But that’s really the first step the body needs to take to help heal itself.”
In order for the body to heal, it needs to deliver important proteins and oxygen to the injured area. That’s why swelling occurs. So, while icing can help minimize pain, it should be used only over short periods.
One question often asked is, “Does taking an anti-inflammatory prior to exercising help to prevent injuries?” The short answer is: no. In fact, they could lead to worsening problems.
Anti-inflammatories can delay the ability of the body to maintain adequate blood flow to the injured area. Swelling is part of the natural healing cycle, and the drugs may interfere with that.
“Regular swelling in the same place can also indicate an underlying injury or condition that predisposes an injury,” Dr. Buck said. “By taking the anti-inflammatory, you could actually be hiding or masking symptoms needed for proper diagnosis of those problems.”
Taking these kinds of over-the-counter medications on a routine basis could also have an adverse effect on the body overall. Many patients who regularly use them experience stomach irritation, high blood pressure, kidney issues, and much more. While you might get a slight benefit from the pain control, you could be trading that for more serious issues as side effects.
When to stretch
Stretching before a workout or competition is common practice among athletes, but it begs the question, “Will stretching help prevent an injury?” The answer to that question is a bit complicated.
There are two kinds of stretching – static and dynamic – with each offering its own benefit. It’s important to know which kind you intend to do and what benefits you’re trying to achieve.
Static stretches, where you hold the stretch for 10-30 seconds, can help to improve range of motion and flexibility. These might include hamstrings, quadriceps, head bends, and trunk rotations.
Dynamic stretches, meaning that you move while you stretch, include moves such as lunge with a twist, jump squats, or high kicks. They can help with muscular performance and power. Imagine jumping into a soccer game without a warm-up. It might take some time on the field for your body to start performing well.
When both static and dynamic stretches are included in a full warm-up routine, stretching may help reduce the risk of muscle strain injuries. Such activity should include an aerobic component before and after the stretches.
Keep in mind that the primary goal of stretching is to prepare the muscles and surrounding tissue in anticipation of the exercise. “It’s important to keep the muscles balanced and strong,” Dr. Buck explained. “You will want to do both types of stretching, but talk to a doctor or healthcare provider for specific advice about your situation.”
In the end, it’s important to remember that you can’t prevent all injuries. But by maintaining a healthy level of flexibility and strength, you can minimize the risk and improve your recovery potential should injury occur. If you do sustain an injury and the pain is not decreasing or swelling continues, it may be time to see a sports medicine specialist.
If it’s time to seek medical help for your injury, click here to find a Kettering Health Network sports injury clinic near you.