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Almost one in five South African adults have chronic pain. For those who play sports on the regular, experiencing chronic pain can certainly make things more difficult, though you don’t have to give up your love for the game when looking to successfully manage your pain. From the importance of understanding your pain, your options for pain management, and the value in staying active, here’s what you should consider before jumping in. 

 

The importance of understanding your pain 

For athletes who experience chronic pain, sports injuries such as broken bones, sprains, or strains can cause chronic pain years later. A post from the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC) Health Beat explains that you may develop muscle or joint pain at the site of your initial injury, or in surrounding areas, going on to point out that chronic pain often develops because you didn’t get proper treatment for the acute injury when it happened. “The typical injuries that we see are your chronic, inflammation-type injuries,” says Jessica Falvo, MEd, LAT, athletic trainer and team leader, UPMC Sports Medicine.  Apart from sports-related causes, chronic pain can be the result of other issues, whether it be long term illness, a short-term injury, or aging. For example, chronic pain can also be the result of working an office job, with the pain deriving from issues such as poor posture when sitting at the desk, not moving around enough during the day, and even repetitive strain injuries from using keyboards/typing. While altering your position or moving around can alleviate tension and minor pain, getting treatment from a medical professional for long-lasting, chronic pain is typically necessary. 

An Orlando Health post explains that there is ‘a clear distinction’ between pain and soreness, with pain being acute or chronic discomfort that can feel different ways (such as stabbing, throbbing, or radiating pain), while soreness feels like “a dull ache that shows up between eight and 24 houses after repetitive movement in a joint or muscle,” and may linger for up to 48 hours after vigorous activity. As such, it’s noted that a person should be able to safely continue playing without further injury when experiencing soreness, though debilitating pain “usually indicates an injury that could worsen with continued activity.” 

Getting checked out by a medical professional is essential in order to understand what’s going on regarding your pain, especially when considering that some athletes try to ignore the pain or play/push through it — which can be dangerous. Orlando Health goes on to note that there are several signs that a doctor may look for to assess whether it’s safe for an athlete to keep playing, from the type of injury to the level of pain and range of motion. Consulting a medical professional before continuing to play is also ideal due to the fact that there are injuries that can worsen without rest and rehabilitation. For instance, it’s noted that fractures can lead to blood clots and joint, muscle, ligament, or nerve damage, thus highlighting the importance of understanding your pain, its cause, and your limitations before playing. 

 

An array of options 

When looking to manage your pain when playing your favorite sport, there are several options worth looking into. Midwest Orthopedic Specialty Hospital notes that there are several pain relief techniques out there for athletes that don’t involve narcotics. “The best way to alleviate pain is to treat the underlying cause of the discomfort, which is why seeing a physician when you experience “bad pain” is so important,” stresses the site, which goes on to elaborate on pain relief methods that can be used for ‘good’ or ‘bad’ pain. The RICE method (rest, ice, compression, and elevation), is the first method among several that are mentioned — “Resting or immobilizing the joint or area of injury allows your body time to heal. Icing the area, wrapping the injury, and raising the area above your heart can improve healing time and manage pain,” notes the site. Over-the-counter pain medications, physical therapy, acupuncture, and even surgery are a few of the other options worth exploring depending on your situation. 

The benefits of staying active — and stretching 

Regarding the management of chronic pain that derives from old sports injuries, UPMC’s Jessica Flavo notes that “Motion is lotion for your joints.” Flavo goes on to explain that “Rest is a good thing to have, recovery is a good thing to have, but if you completely shut down and don’t do anything about it, your joints will actually not get any benefit from it.” Doing exercises for those joints can work to strengthen the muscles surrounding the area, and stretch those muscles, allowing the motion to lubricate the joint in ‘a positive way,’ according to the UPMC post. However, it’s imperative to keep in mind that there is a right and wrong way to play sports when injured. 

Stretching, for instance, is just one essential part of a workout that can be overlooked, especially when considering the fact that doing so regularly can help relieve pain that might otherwise get in the way of staying active, notes a Hinge Health article. Stretching is also beneficial when looking to increase flexibility, improve relaxation, improve your athletic performance, and may minimize your risk of injury, too. “It’s beneficial to stretch both before and after your workout,” Mary Kimbrough, PT, DPT, OCS, and physical therapist at Hinge Health says. “People who stretch before and after their workouts stick with it because they feel more prepared for their workouts, and it helps them relax and transition out of their workouts afterwards.” 

Dealing with pain as an athlete can be discouraging, though there is no reason to give up your love for the game. By understanding your pain, talking with a medical professional, and exercising in a safe way, you can navigate your pain in an effective way.

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