Athlete, heal thyself

Mild sports injuries

Treating sports injuries early is important to prevent further damage to the injured site. For mild sprains, strains, bumps, or bruises, follow the RICE program for the first 48 hours:

  • Rest: Take a break for the first 24 hours to let the injured area rest and recover. Your body needs time to heal the injury. Once you can go about your usual daily routine without pain, you can ease yourself back into a full slate of activities.
  • Ice: Apply an icepack (or a bag of frozen vegetables, wrapped in a towel) to the injured area for 15 to 20 minutes every few hours. Ice helps to cut down on swelling and inflammation by slowing blood flow to the injury, as well as lessening the pain by numbing it a bit. Avoid leaving the ice on for too long, since it could cause frostbite.
  • Compression: Between ice treatments, wrap an elastic bandage around the affected part to apply pressure and reduce swelling for the first 24 hours. Compression can also help provide support to a weak joint. It should be fairly tight, but make sure it doesn't press on nerves or cut off blood circulation – if the end of the limb turns blue, that's too tight! It's also too tight if you feel throbbing in the bandaged area. For the same reason, don't wear the bandage at night.
  • Elevation: Let gravity do the work – try to keep the injured limb raised above the level of the heart to prevent fluids from pooling in the inflamed tissues. For an injured leg, prop it up above the hips when lying down. Injured arms can be held up in a sling.

In addition, you can lessen inflammation and relieve pain by taking ASA, ibuprofen, naproxen, or other anti-inflammatory medications. Check with your doctor or pharmacist first before taking any medications, and take care not to exceed the recommended doses. If, after following these steps, the injury doesn't seem to be getting any better within 48 hours, it's best to see your doctor.

Sports injuries requiring medical attention

It's vital to seek immediate medical attention if a sports-related injury involves more severe symptoms, which include:

  • blurred vision
  • confusion
  • dizziness
  • ear pain
  • headache
  • inability to move the limb or joint
  • loss of consciousness
  • loss of vision
  • nausea
  • nosebleed lasting longer than 20 minutes
  • numbness
  • ringing in the ears
  • severe pain and swelling
  • vomiting

So don't forget to warm up before you engage in physical activity, and wear proper protection while playing certain sports.Devices like insoles, ankle supports, or knee braces can prevent sprains to stress fractures. Helmets are common sense for protecting your head. Keep this in mind and keep yourself in the game.

Know your knees

Your knee: it's the biggest joint in your body, made up of a lot of parts that can get injured in all kinds of sports. The knee connects the lower end of the thighbone (femur) to the upper end of the shinbone (tibia). Several large ligaments – strong, elastic bands of tissue that join bone to bone – make this connection, bracing and controlling the motion of the joint. The kneecap (patella) slides in a groove at the end of the thighbone; it protects the knee and gives leverage to various leg muscles. Cartilage at the ends of the leg bones helps to cushion the joint, like a shock absorber.

Sprains (stretched or torn ligaments) are an especially common knee injury, and the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) is the one most often damaged. This can happen, for example, when you change direction quickly, twist a leg or fall, slow down when running, or land from a jump. Typically, a torn ACL will be immediately disabling: you'll feel or hear a "pop," and the knee seems to "give way." Even though it might not be painful, see a doctor right away. Surgery may be necessary.

Knee pain can also come on gradually from overuse of the joint. For example, "patello-femoral syndrome," or pain caused by the kneecap being pushed against the sides of its groove, can occur if you do a lot of running. The pain, either sharp or dull, is usually felt in the front of the knee. Squatting or walking down stairs often makes it worse, and you might feel a grinding or "clicking" in the joint. A sports medicine specialist can help you to rebalance the kneecap and prevent further pain through proper training, stretching, and strengthening exercises.

Don't let arthritis keep you down

Living with arthritis means learning how to manage the symptoms and maximize mobility, and, for some types of arthritis, slowing down the progression of the disease with medications.

First, see your doctor if you haven't already. Pain relievers and anti-inflammatory medications can make it easier for you to move around, and can relieve joint stiffness. It's important not to get discouraged if the medications don't seem to be working right away, since some medications may take several weeks to reach their full effect. What helps one person may not help another; you may need to try different medications at various dosages before you find adequate relief.

It's understandable to feel frustrated or down when you can't do things you once could - whether it's taking long hikes in the woods or doing fine needlework. But to stay healthy in body, mind and spirit, we need to adapt. Take shorter routes if you used to enjoy long walks, or take part in a "mall walk" sponsored by your local shopping centre. If it's getting too difficult to do your favourite hobby, maybe you can learn a similar one that puts less stress on your joints, or use adaptive aids to help you continue doing the one you love. Occupational therapists are a great resource for handy devices that might make it easier for you to continue enjoying your activities.

It's important to exercise! Exercise helps arthritis by improving joint movement and strengthening the muscles that surround the joints. Swimming and walking are great exercises with low impact on the joints when done in moderation. This will keep your muscles active without increasing inflammation or joint pain. Swimming is particularly good since the water helps support the weight of your body, taking the strain off of the joints. Call your local community centre to see what special exercise activities they have to offer. Check with your doctor or physiotherapist before starting a new exercise program.

Staying active, physically and mentally, is important to maintain good health. For example, participating regularly in swimming and exercise programs can help you get out of the house and maintain social contacts. Ask your doctor or physiotherapist for ideas.

Shopping for supplements

Nutrition experts agree: the best way to stock up on vitamins and minerals is by eating right. Popping a pill is no substitute for a balanced diet. But if, like millions of Canadians, you decide to take a vitamin and mineral supplement, here are some tips:

  • Don't waste your money on "natural" vitamins. Your body can't tell the difference between synthetic (man-made) vitamins and so-called "natural" ones, but synthetics are usually cheaper. The exception to this rule is vitamin E: your body absorbs the natural form better than the synthetic version, although vitamin manufacturers add enough to synthetic vitamin E to make up for the difference (and it's still cheaper). Also remember that generic and other reasonably priced brands are just as good as more expensive ones.
  • Read the label to make sure the expiry date hasn't passed. Like foods, supplements should not be used after their expiry dates. Look for a Drug Identification Number (DIN) or Natural Health Product (NHP) number, usually on the front label, which shows that the product was approved by Health Canada.
  • Don't assume that more is better. In fact, vitamins A and D, iron, zinc, and selenium can be toxic in high doses, while others can have unpleasant or serious side effects. Your safest bet is to look for supplements that provide no more than the recommended daily dose of each nutrient.
  • Keep supplements away from children. Those pills may look and taste like candy to a child – but they can be deadly. Iron supplements cause more poisoning deaths in children than any other substance.
  • Tell your doctor about all of the vitamins, minerals, and other supplements you're taking. Some vitamins and minerals can interfere with certain medications.