It’s been one week since the start of the 2016 Rio Olympic Games, and already the world has witnessed some intense injuries. French gymnast Samir Ait Said fractured his tibia and fibula. Italian cyclist Vincenzo Nibali broke his collarbone in multiple places. Armenian weightlifter Andranik Karapetyan dislocated his elbow.
Injuries are not uncommon during the Olympic Games. According to CNN, during the 2008 Summer Olympic Games in Beijing – out of the 10,942 athletes who participated in the Games – a total of 1,055 injuries occurred. Of those injuries, almost half of them were expected to prevent further training or competition. The 2012 Summer Olympic Games in London saw similar numbers.
The most severe injuries – like the ones sustained by Said, Nibali and Karapetyan – are rare. It’s more common to see overuse injuries such as shin splints or tendonitis. For many of the overuse injuries, massages and ice baths are common solutions. This year, you may have also noticed large circular bruises on a few Olympians like Michael Phelps. These are from an ancient therapy called “cupping,” where a glass suction cup is warmed and placed on sore parts of the body. Some believe this therapy stimulates the muscles and blood flow, successfully relieving the pain in those particular areas.
“We’re seeing this more and more in athletes who are looking to speed up their recovery and loosen up tight muscles in order to give them an edge while they’re competing,” said Dr. James Gregory, orthopedic surgeon with Memorial Hermann IRONMAN Sports Medicine Institute and assistant professor in the department of Orthopedic Surgery at McGovern Medical School at UTHealth. “I haven’t typically seen this used for recreational athletes, but sometimes practices made popular during the Olympics can really take off afterwards. I wouldn’t be surprised to see that with cupping.”
Of course, pain is not limited to Olympians. Those of us who enjoy recreational sports and activities can face severe injuries as well. Proper recovery from these injuries is of the utmost importance. Without the appropriate rest and treatment, the risk for re-injury can skyrocket. Dr. Gregory offered some additional tips for recovery from all types of injuries.
SEE A DOCTOR
For the more common overuse injuries, it’s important that you see a doctor if the pain is really bothering you. Waiting too long can only make the problem worse.
“It’s much easier to take care of something when it’s a new problem than if it’s a pain that has been a problem for six months or a year,” said Dr. Gregory. “I think it’s reasonable when someone is feeling pain that isn’t going away on its own in a week or two, even if it’s something mild, it’s worth getting checked out by a doctor.”
Patience is the most necessary attribute athletes need while recovering. The recovery process can be a long one and, for some athletes, taking an extended break may even lead to depressive symptoms. It can take anywhere from two to six weeks for an athlete to be able to resume the training process.
“Different types of injuries will take different amounts of time to heal,” Dr. Gregory said. “Pay attention to your body. Pain is your body’s way of telling you that you should not be doing the activity that you’re doing. A doctor or physical therapist can help you determine what kind of pain is normal and what pain is OK for you to push through.”
EASE THE RETURN
Even if an athlete is pain-free, they can be at higher risk for re-injury immediately following recovery. Athletes should not attempt to jump right back into the same exercises they were doing before. These practices may need to be cut in half. Athletes are recommended to increase their workout intensity by 10 percent every 10 days until they are back to where they started.
“You can definitely be back to 100 percent if there is proper healing and rehabilitation,” Dr. Gregory said. “It’s very common for recreational athletes to get back to the level at which they were functioning pre-injury.”
When it comes to the marathon that is the recovery process, slow and steady wins the race. If you suffer an injury while working out or playing sports with your friends, don’t be discouraged. Once you recover, you will most likely be back to doing the things you love in no time – perhaps doing them even better than you could before.
To learn more about sports injury prevention and recovery, visit www.ironman.memorialhermann.org.