One of the great things about the people of Colorado is that they have serious passion for recreation, physical activities, and their health. Every day at Rebound we see patients, who by day work in various professions, but really have their personal identities firmly attached to being a runner, cyclist, mountain climber, triathlete, or fitness buff just to name a few. These hard working people are committed to their “day jobs,” but the one thing you don’t ever want to take away from them is the recreational and fitness activities that they are so passionate about!
Unfortunately, with a “go big or go home” attitude towards a sport comes the occasional injury. For example, statistics on runners indicate that nearly 75% will suffer at least one injury per year. Injuries to active Coloradoans range from traumatic events (broken bones, torn ligaments and tendons) to overuse scenarios (tendinitis, muscle strains). One thing they have in common is that they take away the athlete’s sport or recreational activity which is important to them both physically and mentally.
A common approach with many injuries is simply to rest and allow the body to conduct its natural healing process. Our bodies have a truly amazing ability to adapt and heal, but along the way there can also be a very important undesired occurrence, and that is called compensation. Compensation begins with our nervous system recognizing pain and altering the way that we move and posture our bodies for even the simplest of daily activities. In basic terms it is a hard-wired protection mechanism.
Immediately following an injury, compensation can be a good thing to help the body protect from pain and create a healing environment. The nervous system does this by changing what muscles it uses and how it moves our various joints. This strategy used by our bodies is called “inhibition.”
The problem with muscle inhibition is that many times the body does not let go of this compensating strategy even once injured tissues have healed. Thus a return to sports and activities can begin with significant biomechanical imbalances that make re-injury or a new problem likely. For example, many patients who have injured a foot or ankle will report after being in a cast or boot that their original pain is gone, but as they increase activities again they experience a new pain in their knee or hip.
Ideally following an injury, whether to a joint, bone, muscle, ligament or tendon, a physical therapist can check your biomechanics to make sure range of motion has been restored and that key muscles have turned back “on.” Turning muscles back on and improving muscle recruitment patterns is called “activation,” and it is absolutely critical to stay pain-free and enjoy your recreation and sports activities.
Returning to a recreational hobby or sport requires a solid plan. In addition to going through a brief biomechanical check-up, a physical therapist can design a “return to sport” program and provide any corrective exercises to address compensations and imbalances. This plan should also include guidelines on how quickly you can ramp up your activities without causing another injury.