Column: Sports Medicine, by Liz Ostrowski
It’s not uncommon for athletes to get injured during a game or practice and not say anything to a coach or parent. Then, after trying to play through the pain, the athlete will eventually admit they are hurt and most likely the injury has just been getting worse.
This is a culture in athletics we need to change. Getting hurt is not a sign of weakness and it’s nothing to be ashamed or embarrassed about. Instead, athletes should be encouraged to speak up when they are having pain during weight lifting, practice or a game. Players need to know that it’s okay to say something and it’s not normal or healthy to continue to play with pain.
The most important reason to talk about pain is to find the root of the problem. As an athletic trainer, I can help relieve the pain of an injury if I know what is causing it. Recently I have had a few athletes tell me they have had shin pain or knee pain for three to four weeks and it’s just not getting better. Because they haven’t spoken up, I’m then forced to sit these kids out of some practices to get them better. If they would have spoken up earlier, we could have prevented the shin splints or patellar tendonitis from getting worse and they could have been pain free after a few weeks of treatment. Instead they can barely walk. Chronic injuries usually take longer to recover from because proper care hasn’t been taken from the initial injury.
Athletes have a false belief that if they speak up about being injured, they will immediately sit out from practices and games. The reality is, if they speak up when the injury happens, most of the time they don’t have to miss a thing. There are ways to cross train, adjust practice drills, brace, tape and/or prescribe physical therapy to keep them at full practice without missing a minute of play. The key to optimum recovery is getting in to see someone early and then having them continue to check on the progress of the injury.
My favorite athlete comment is “professional athletes don’t miss anything when they get hurt and they recover really fast. Why can’t I continue to play?” Unfortunately, watching TV has given everyone unrealistic expectations about injuries. In the medical field, we have made many amazing advancements to cure illnesses and fix severe injuries. Yet for all the technology we have, we cannot speed up the rate of healing in a body. I have worked with professional and Olympic athletes and they are not superhuman. They have injuries just like everyone else but they know they have to speak up and get treatment right away when they start to feel something if they want to continue playing. They don’t wait weeks to talk about having knee pain. I can tell you those athletes are getting treatments every day from their medical staff for an injury or soreness they are having.
Parents also play a key role in getting their athletes healthy. Encourage your kids to see their athletic trainer, even for the injuries that seem minor. There might be some things an athletic trainer can recommend that will help relieve pain and stop an injury from getting worse while keeping them in the game. Athletes shouldn’t be playing through the pain all season long.
Do you have a question regarding sports medicine that you would like to see addressed in this space in the future? Send your questions to SportsMed@lrhc.org and it may be featured in an upcoming article.