Sports: Top 4 Ways to Tell “Sore” from “Injured”

Story by Dr Mark Galland, team physician and orthopaedic consultant to the Carolina Mudcats.

Cary, NC – For many students, the first week in August marks the end of summer and the return to the school practice field. With practice and conditioning kicking off in the summer heat, the risk of injury significantly increases, especially if you are not cautious. Here are the Top 4 signals to help you tell if it’s “sore” or “injured.” 

Top 4 Ways to Tell “Sore” from “Injured”

For athletes whose greatest fear is admitting that they might be injured, remember that your team physicians and athletic trainers are there to help you get back into playing shape rather than keep you sidelined. It is their job to treat athletes and allow you to continue playing. Here are four indications that you should see your doctor immediately to treat or prevent injury.

1. Persistent Pain that Worsens with Activity

If you have persistent pain that worsens when you train, it is very unlikely that this is something that will resolve on its own. This usually indicates that there is an injury starting or already present that will continue to worsen. Treatment of such conditions is often easy and can get you playing again without much delay.

2. Persistent Pain while at Rest

Pain that persists while at rest is a sure sign that you need to visit your doctor. This situation indicates that you have sustained an injury that will either not heal properly on its own or will take an extended amount of time to heal.

3. Swelling that Limits Joint Movement

Experiencing swelling that limits motion of a joint is another sign that you should see your physician. When these injuries go untreated, you often make compensations with a different, healthy limb which can over- stress the healthy limb, causing injury there as well. If this type of injury is properly treated, you will recover quickly and avoid further problems.

4. Numbness or Tingling

Experiencing numbness or tingling in any portion of your body can indicate injury or an abnormality of your spinal column or nerves. This can be very serious and your doctor should be consulted immediately. Until your physician has evaluated and cleared you for participation, sports activity and conditioning should be put on hold.

Other Items to Keep in Mind

Proper Nutrition

To try to avoid injuries and stay healthy, student athletes require proper nutrition, including well-balanced meals that exclude high fat and greasy foods. You should drink plenty of water before, during and after practice, rather than sports drinks which are often loaded with sugar and caffeine and can elevate blood pressure to dangerous levels. The importance of adequate rest is often neglected.  During the rigors of “two a days” football practice, an athlete should get a full-night’s sleep (8 hours) and may even require a mid-day nap.

Get Acclimated

Athletes should get acclimated to working out in the heat, starting with 15 minutes of light stretching and working up to 60 minutes at the intensity at which they will be practicing.  Be certain to avoid exercising in the hottest portion of the day.  It is important to check equipment for proper fit and to make sure it is in good working order. Ill-fitting equipment can lead to injury or improper protection of athletes. Equipment should also be properly cleaned daily, to reduce the chance of infection.

Being Sore Versus Injured

Although most athletes play with some aches and pains, it is critical that you recognize the difference between being sore and being injured. At the high school level, athletes should begin to learn to recognize normal muscle soreness of the kind that comes from working out and practicing, and distinguish between that discomfort and pain from an injury. The situations mentioned above are significantly divergent from simply experiencing muscle soreness from a workout. Your athletic trainers and team doctors can assist with this.

If injuries, or the start of injuries, are detected early, you may avoid any unnecessarily lost playing time. Injuries can be treated, often braced, taped or splinted, and athletes will play more effectively.

If you have been “nursing” an injury for a couple of days or even months and are wondering whether you may be injured, then you probably are injured. To get back in playing shape quickly, see your team or personal doctor. Their job is not to sideline you, but to help treat you and limit the amount of time lost due to injury.

Dr. Mark Galland is a Board Certified Orthopaedic Surgeon specializing in sports medicine, practicing in Wake Forest and North Raleigh.