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Sporting chance

Repetitive-stress injuries are not the bane of athletes alone. They can happen to anyone, anytime, anywhere — while driving, running, using a computer mouse for hours, or even playing with young children.

delhi Updated: Oct 02, 2010 21:01 IST
Rhythma Kaul

Repetitive-stress injuries are not the bane of athletes alone. They can happen to anyone, anytime, anywhere — while driving, running, using a computer mouse for hours, or even playing with young children. The areas affected are usually the joints of the knee, elbow, shoulder and ankle.

“Many sports-related injuries are seen in people who have nothing to do with sports. Any pain that does not go away between 48 and 72 hours needs treatment,” says Dr Deepak Chaudhary, head of Safdarjung Hospital’s Sports Injuries Centre. Of the 100 people who visited the Sports Injury Centre inaugurated this week, 50 had hurt themselves without playing a sport, Injuries such as muscle pulls and cramps, sprained or twisted ankle, tennis elbow, lower back pain, pain in the heels and knees etc. are very common among non-sports persons also. “If you are trying out something strenuous for the first time, you should take it easy. Conditions arising out of stress come under the overuse injuries category,” says Dr Yash Gulati, senior consultant, Apollo Hospital. Among the top-five repetitive-stress injuries are:

Muscle Pull or Tear

Problem: A sudden and severe force may stretch the muscle beyond capacity, causing a pull or a tear in muscle fibre. Strain, overuse, fatigue or a fall can result in muscle pull or tear in almost anyone.

Treatment: Apply ice immediately to relax the muscle and relieve contraction. Rub an ice pack gently on the injury for 20 minutes every few hours for the initial three to four days. Get back to action only after the muscle stops hurting. Calf muscle usually takes a week to heal, while hamstrings (located in back of the thigh) take about a month. Regular stretching prevents muscle pull. “Stretching before and after the activity, keeping yourself hydrated, gradual buildup of level of activity and warming up and warming down is essential,” said Dr Yash Gulati, orthopaedic surgeon, Apollo Hospital. “Since exercising hard and fast suddenly is bad news, always start slow and pick up intensity gradually,” he said.

Muscle Cramps

Problem: A cramp is a painful involuntary muscle spasm, usually in the muscles of the legs. It can occur while exercising, playing a sport or simply lying down in bed. Dehydration and excessive sweating after sudden exertion are usually the cause as these deplete essential minerals such as sodium, potassium, calcium, magnesium etc. in the body. Other risk factors are poor nutrition, inadequate sleep, smoking and wearing high-heeled or ill-fitting shoes.

Treatment: “Gently stretching by grasping the cramped muscle with one hand and pulling up toes with the other relieves contraction. Walking slowly with the entire body’s weight on the heel is another remedy,” says Gupta. For severe cramps, apply an ice pack to reduce blood flow to the injured spot and alleviate pain.

Runner’s Knee

Problem: A common cause of knee pain, this condition occurs due to misalignment of the kneecap within its socket. Constant rubbing of the kneecap against the wall of the socket makes the cartilage on the sides and on the back wear out. In come cases, fluid may build up and cause swelling and pain. “Wearing shoes with extra cushion while running lowers shock to the knee joint, preventing injury,” says Chaudhary.

Treatment: Stretching quadriceps (thigh muscles) is the best treatment for runner’s knee. Using downward strokes, massage down from the upper part of the thigh towards the knee for 10-15 minutes to stretch muscle fibres and lower contraction. As the swelling gradually reduces, the pain also eases out.

Tennis Elbow

Problem: It’s a sporty name for pain and tenderness in the outer part of the elbow as a result of muscle and tendon inflammation. Though tennis elbow is common in people playing tennis or other racquet sport, it may also occur if sudden pressure is exerted on the wrist, such as driving for long hours at a stretch, using a computer mouse and, believe it or not, channel-surfing for hours.

Treatment: Rubbing the injured area either with an ice or heat pad helps relieve pain. You’ll need a tennis-elbow strap to support the elbow and reduce strain. After recovery, exercises such as squeezing a soft rubber ball or doing wrist and reverse-wrist curls are needed to improve forearm strength.

Sprained/Twisted Ankle

Problem: Sprains occur when a twisted foot bruises ligaments that support the ankle on the outside. Within seconds of the injury, ankle swells and starts hurting. Ankle sprains can be mild, moderate to severe, depending on the severity of the ligament tear. If you can exert pressure on the ankle, it is not likely to be broken, but an X-ray is needed to rule out a hairline fracture.

Treatment: “Using a simple technique called PRICE — protect, rest, ice, compress and elevate (raise the injured area above the heart’s level) — works best,” said Apollo’s Gulati. Once the pain goes down, gently start moving the ankle by moving it clockwise and anti-clockwise. Repeat till the pain subsides.