Chronic pain can seem like an unavoidable (and inconvenient) fact of life. Nearly 50 million adults in the US live with some form of chronic pain, and this number is rising.
Since athletes are encouraged to power through pain and discomfort, they’re at particular risk of developing chronic pain. This lingering pain, which often stems from an undiagnosed sports injury, can lead to a permanent loss or restriction of function in the affected muscle, tendon, or ligament. Thankfully, many of these injuries — ranging from ACL tears to tennis elbow — can be managed or even resolved with proper medical care. We’ll walk you through some of the most common, and outline the steps you can take to protect yourself on the court or field.
1. ACL TEAR
An ACL tear is a rupture of the anterior cruciate ligament, one of the most important ligaments that stabilizes the knee. It’s typically caused by a sudden change of force or direction, making the injury particularly common in athletes who need to frequently plant and pivot their feet.
ACL tears can be treated with rest and rehabilitation, but in most cases, surgery will be needed to reconstruct the damaged ligament, usually with tissue taken from another source. While anybody can suffer from an ACL tear, strengthening the muscles in the knee and regularly stretching can help to stabilize the ACL, protecting the ligaments from significant injury.
2. PATELLOFEMORAL SYNDROME
Patellofemoral pain syndrome, commonly referred to as runner’s knee, results from a variety of causes, including a misalignment or dislocation of the kneecap, overuse of the affected knee, tightened or weakened thigh muscles, flat feet, or strained tendons. It typically manifests itself as a dull pain underneath the kneecap that intensifies when sitting, squatting, or climbing stairs.
Treatment for runner’s knee is typically centered around rest and a physical therapy program designed to improve strength and flexibility in the thigh muscles. Arthroscopic surgery is usually not necessary. Properly warming up before exercising, gradually increasing the intensity of your workout, and stretching afterward can reduce the likelihood that you will need to pursue surgery.
3. TENNIS ELBOW
Clinically referred to as lateral epicondylitis, tennis elbow occurs when the tendons that attach the forearm muscles to the humerus are damaged, resulting in pain around the elbow and a weakened grip. It’s commonly caused by overuse of the forearm, which can in turn lead to inflammation and tears.
Tennis elbow is usually treated non-surgically, with most patients advised to avoid any activities that aggravate the pain, rest the affected forearm, take nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories, and wear a specialized elbow brace. A physical therapy regimen can also promote recovery, as can cortisone injections. Warming up, stretching, and refraining from overuse of the forearm are all strong preventative measures for tennis elbow.
4. BICEPS TEAR
A biceps tear is a full or partial rupture of one of the three tendons that connect the biceps to the shoulder and the elbow. This injury is usually caused by either sudden trauma or prolonged stress on the tendons, as might occur when lifting heavy objects.
Treatment for biceps tears depends on the severity of the injury, but a customary rehabilitation program entails icing, stretching, rest, and, if necessary, arthroscopic surgery. Biceps tears can be prevented by using proper technique when exercising or lifting heavy objects, strengthening other muscles in the upper back, stretching and warming up before exercising, and resting the biceps after engaging in intense physical activity.
Sciatica is among the most common complaints seen by doctors, but it’s actually a symptom of other problems, not a medical condition in and of itself. It’s caused by a pinching or compression of nerves in the lower back, creating a pain that runs from the lower back to the feet and a sense of tingling or numbness in the lower back, buttocks, and legs.
Since sciatica is only a symptom of other underlying conditions — lumbar disc herniation, spinal stenosis, or piriformis syndrome, for example — treatment must be tailored accordingly. In most cases, a combination of physical therapy, medication, and cortisone injections will provide relief from sciatica symptoms. Exercising regularly, maintaining proper form while working out, and correcting your posture can all reduce the likelihood of developing any condition that results in sciatica.
If you worry that you may have any of these common injuries, our team of specialists at New York Bone and Joint is here to help. With decades of combined experience diagnosing and treating sports injuries, we can work with you to develop a specialized rehabilitation plan that ensures complete recovery and a quicker return to action. Call us today to schedule an initial appointment.