By Tom Fischetti, Certified Athletic Trainer
Athletes can develop ACUTE or CHRONIC injuries due to the tremendous amount of stress they place on their bodies. What begins as an acute injury can often become chronic, if not treated quickly. The sooner injuries are reported and treated, the better for recovery.
What are Acute Injuries?
Injuries that occur suddenly and rapidly are known as ACUTE INJURIES. Sprained ankles or muscle strains fall under this category. These injuries tend to occur at the end of practice or late in an event because athletes are fatigued, making them more prone to injury. Athletes generally recover relatively quickly from these injuries, typically within one week. For example, it takes about 1 -3 days for athletes to recover from a first-degree ankle sprain.
Treating Acute Injuries
Most acute injuries can be treated using P.R.I.C.E.S.
Protection: Depending on severity, the injured area must be protected from further injury by using crutches for lower extremity injuries or a sling for upper extremity injuries. Protection should be used when the pain is too severe for athletes to apply weight to the injured body part or in the case of injuries such as stress fractures, dislocations, or severe ligament, muscle, or tendon tears.
Rest: The injured area requires some period of NO activity to allow for recovery. The amount of rest time needed depends on the injury and should be discussed with a physician.
Ice: Icing an acute injury is critical for the first 48-72 hours to control swelling, inflammation, and pain and enhance recovery time. Use a bag of ice or re-usable cold pack to ice the injury for 15-20 minutes 3-4 times per day, if possible.
Compression: Use compression, such as a wrap, before, during, and after icing. DO NOT wrap too tightly as this will completely cut off blood flow.
Elevation: Acute injuries should be elevated above the level of the heart as often as possible. NEVER elevate an injury if it increases pain or a fracture is suspected.
Support: When the athlete returns to activity, support the injured area with a brace or wrap.
What are Chronic Injuries?
Injuries that develop slowly, last an extended amount of time, and seemingly come out of nowhere are CHRONIC INJURIES. MANY chronic injuries, also known as overuse injuries, occur as the result of muscle imbalances, overuse, poor diet, or poor technique in the athlete’s sport and many begin as acute injuries. Acute injuries that are NOT properly treated will become worse and could eventually lead to a chronic condition. Tendonitis, stress fractures, and shin splints are examples of chronic injuries.
How Do I Know My Injury is Chronic?
Chronic injuries tend to hurt before and after an activity, but typically not during an activity. The pain level is usually low when compared to acute injuries, which tend to cause a higher level of pain. Due to a low level of pain, many athletes tend to play it, resulting in developing a chronic condition that can worsen over time and could lead to a significant amount of playing time lost once the injury is diagnosed and treatment begins.
Treating Chronic Injuries
Ice, heat, rest combined will treat chronic injuries. Correcting what caused the injury in the first place such as muscle imbalances, overtraining, and reevaluating athletes' nutritional needs are the most effective ways to treat and potentially eliminate chronic injuries.
Tom Fischetti has a Bachelor's degree in Physical Education and a Master's degree in Sports Medicine. He is a certified Athletic Trainer (ATC) through the National Athletic Trainers Association (NATA). He currently teaches Adapted Physical Education, Life Fitness, and Sports Medicine at the high school level in the northern suburbs of Illinois. From 1997-2003 Tom worked for the National Basketball Associations (N.B.A.) Pre-Draft Rookie camp in Chicago performing fitness assessments on all rookies entering the N.B.A. draft. Tom has also worked with the Chicago Blackhawks every fall since 2009 as part of their pre-season medical assessment staff.