Can Exercise Hurt Me? Pain & Injury from Sports or Exercise

Many people have taken up the call to get moving and get fit. Performing sports or exercise on a routine basis is probably as important as the type of food we consume daily. However, similar to how a bad diet can result in significant health problems down the road, practicing bad exercise techniques or developing other poor habits can also put you at risk of harm, in the form of pain, injury or both.

Sometimes pain or injury result from the amount or frequency of activity; sometimes they are related to improper form; sometimes they are simply the cost of playing, and through no fault of your own. However, when and if you do run into problems, it is best to be informed on what you should do to resolve them.

There are two types of injury of which you should be aware: acute and chronic. They are defined below.

Acute Injuries

Acute injuries, such as a bone fracture, sprained ankle, or strained back, occur suddenly during activity. Signs of an acute injury include the following:

  • Sudden, severe pain
  • Swelling
  • Visible dislocation or break of a bone
  • Inability to place weight on a lower limb
  • Extreme tenderness in the injured area
  • Inability to move a joint through its full range of motion
  • Extreme limb weakness

Chronic Injuries

Chronic injuries usually result from overuse of one body part or area while playing a sport or exercising over a long period. The following are signs of a chronic injury:

  • Pain when performing an activity
  • Dull ache when at rest
  • Swelling

Self Care

Initially, if you are injured, either acute or chronic, and it is not severe enough to warrant immediate medical attention, you can start with self-care. The classic system of that care is referred to as RICE, an acronym for the steps below.

  • Rest. Rest is vital to protect the injured tissue from further damage, as well as allow healing. Stop playing or exercising and avoid further use of the injured part, including avoiding weight bearing if necessary. Also, reduce activities that involve the injured part.
  • Ice. Cold provides short-term pain relief and also limits swelling by reducing blood flow to the injured area. Apply an ice pack to the injured area for 20 minutes at a time (but no longer, and not directly to the skin), four to eight times a day. A cold pack, ice bag, plastic bag filled with crushed ice or a bag of frozen vegetables can be used. An ice massage is another extremely effective way to apply direct cold to the injured tissue.
  • Compression. Compression of the injured area may help reduce swelling, and in some cases relieve pain. Compression can be achieved with elastic wraps, special boots, air casts, and splints. For a simple solution, you can use an ACE bandage around the swollen part. If you feel throbbing, or if the wrap just feels too tight, remove the bandage and re-wrap the area so the bandage is looser.
  • Elevation. Elevation can help reduce the swelling and pain and help you heal faster. If possible, keep the injured body part elevated, ideally above the level of the heart, to help decrease swelling. For example, if you injure an ankle or a wrist, try lying on your bed with your foot or arm propped on one or two pillows.

Avoiding Injury

While pain and injury from sports or exercise may occur, let’s look at what you can do proactively to avoid injury, or to prevent recurrence.

There is such a thing as common sense: exercise or sport improperly performed, poor equipment, or other bad exercise habits can all contribute to problems. You might consider investing in a professional trainer or coach, even for a one-shot lesson, to teach you the basics, such as proper technique, warm up and cool down, cross training and frequency of exercise. You can also consult experienced equipment sales people, such as those in specialty shoe stores. (Bring your current or old equipment in for best evaluation).

Fortunately, the majority of sports injuries can heal effectively, and benefit from treatment. In the end, most people who suffer injuries can return to a satisfying level of physical activity after an injury. However, there are times that the injury does not sufficiently heal on its own (i.e. you’re still in pain), or is severe and worrisome.

You should seek medical care if the injury causes severe pain, swelling, or numbness; if you can’t tolerate any weight on the area; or, if the pain or dull ache of an old injury is accompanied by increased swelling or abnormality or instability of the joint.

If you are in pain, or have in theory healed yet still experience pain, consider diagnosis and treatment by Dr. Steven Horowitz. Dr. Horowitz is very familiar with a wide range of sports injuries and unresolved pain, and offers an array of solutions. He utilizes effective, non-invasive procedures such as physical therapy, bracing, injections and medications—all tailored to your specific needs.