Whether you’re a seasoned athlete or a rookie starting a new workout routine, the last thing you want is to be laid low by an injury.
That’s something Dr Lim Lian Arn understands all too well, having sustained his fair share of injuries over years of pursuing intensive sports from rugby to snowboarding to most recently, marathon running. The athletic surgeon now channels his experiences and expertise in orthopaedics towards helping patients overcome their injuries and get back into the playing field.
While regular sports participation provides health benefits, Dr Lim cautions that not all participants may be fully aware of or prepared for the demands of their chosen sport. Hence, he recommends those undergoing sports training to pace themselves carefully and watch out for potential risks of injury.
Here are 4 things to bear in mind:
1. Prevention is better than cure
Avoiding injuries boils down to proper preparation, constant review, and early management of all injuries. Proper preparation means ensuring you have the right baseline fitness before you start engaging in your sport. For example, if you’re just starting on your first marathon, you need to improve your overall fitness and strength levels before you can start running long distances. You should also equip yourself with the right techniques and right equipment, such as a proper pair of shoes that fits your running style.
Constant review means making sure you practise your sport on a fairly regular basis and addressing any potential problems as soon as they pop up. For a runner, this might mean changing your running gait, working on the flexibility and strength of your core and lower limb muscles, and strengthening and stretching as required.
Should you get injured in the process, don’t assume your aches and pains will heal eventually by themselves. Instead, be disciplined enough to see your doctor when an injury doesn’t resolve after an appropriate period of rest.
2. Sports injuries can be chronic or acute
There are 2 major types of sports-related injuries: chronic injuries, long-term pain lasting more than 12 weeks, which stem from repetitive overuse of a body part over a period of time, and acute injuries, which occur suddenly, last less than 12 weeks, and are usually caused by trauma such as cracking a bone or tearing a muscle.
Examples of chronic injuries include the commonly-known ‘runner’s knee’ (kneecap misalignment), jumper’s knee (inflammation of the patellar tendon), knee osteoarthritis (wear and tear of the knee cartilage), shin splints, tennis elbow, as well as stress fractures.
Examples of acute injuries include ankle sprains, ligament and meniscus tears in the knee, and dislocations and fractures of upper or lower limb bones.
Chronic injuries outnumber acute injuries in almost every sporting activity. But because they are not instantly crippling, they tend to get brushed off by athletes and are often not given proper medical care until they escalate into more serious problems.
3. Some sports injuries may require surgical intervention
The majority of sports injuries can be managed with rest and anti-inflammatory medication. In the case of chronic overuse injuries, patients will also need to be evaluated for predisposing causes such as limb misalignments or leg length discrepancies, poor techniques or equipment used, or simply over-activity without due moderation.
Injuries that require surgical management tend to be acute traumatic injuries. Common surgeries include anterior cruciate ligament reconstruction (replacing torn ligament in the knee with new tissue), arthroscopic meniscal surgery (repairing the menisci, or cartilages, that act as shock absorbers for the leg bones), and shoulder rotator cuff repair (reattaching torn tendons back to the upper arm bone).
4. Don’t be too quick to trust the latest medical trends
After getting injured, many fitness and sports enthusiasts may want to heal and get back into action as soon as possible.
Even with advances in the field of sports science and orthopaedic surgery, the truth is not all treatments are equally efficacious or live up to their hype. One example would be the often-cited but controversial stem-cell therapy for soft tissue and cartilage recovery. Though it sounds promising in theory, the reality is serious joint injuries often require ongoing care and even surgery in order to be resolved. Furthermore, current data on the efficacy of stem-cell injections does not show uniformly good results across the whole spectrum of patients. Only some patients with certain conditions have responded well to stem-cell treatments.
Do bear in mind that accidents can happen anytime, even if you exercise caution while exercising. Although effective treatments are easily accessible today, your main goal should still be to avoid getting injured in the first place.
Be mindful of your body. Stay informed about the risks associated with your sport. And if you sustain an acute injury, or if training is causing you to feel any niggling aches, pain, swelling or even numbness, be sure to consult an orthopaedic doctor immediately.
Article reviewed by Dr Lim Lian Arn, orthopaedic surgeon at Gleneagles Hospital
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