How to Avoid (or Treat) An “Olympic” Injury

by Traci F. Gardner, MD

It’s Olympics time again! We watch with awe as athletes from all over the world push their bodies to the limit – and beyond, in some cases.

 Remember Olympic Derek Redmond or Kerri Strug? A 400-meter gold medalist representing Great Britain in the 1992 Olympics, Redmond tore a hamstring in the final fell to the track but gamely rose and struggled the last 250 meters  to cross the finish line while being accompanied by his father, who had come down from the stands to be with his son.

Four years later, Strug, the American gymnast “vaulted” into Olympic lore by sticking the vault despite a badly injured ankle to give the U.S. the team gold. Strug so damaged her ankle on that final jump she was unable to later compete in the all-around or individual competitions.

Redmond and Strug are perfect reminders that muscle and tendon strains and sprains can happen at any time, at any age–to anyone.

Muscle pulls and tears injure the muscle and its attached tendons. They occur when you put undue (or awkward) pressure on muscles during physical activity. Symptoms following an injury can include swelling, bruising or redness, pain, weakness and inability to use that particular muscle.

As you channel your own inner-Olympian, follow these helpful tips to help you avoid injuries:

– Stretch daily, whether you exercise that day or not.

– Develop a warm-up routine (five minutes, at least) prior to any strenuous exercise.

– Stretch after you exercise.

And if you do become injured, apply ice to the affected area early to manage swelling. Early application of heat can actually increase swelling and pain; it should only be applied after swelling has subsided. (And remember, neither ice nor heat should not be applied directly to bare skin.)

If you need pain relief, Ibuprofen or aspirin ( no aspirin for children!), rest and elevation (along with ice) are the best medicine.

If you hear a “popping” sound during the injury, if you cannot walk, if the swelling and pain worsen rather than subside, if you have a fever or if you see no improvement after 24 hours of home remedies, consult your physician or your local emergency room.

Leave those Olympic moments to the men and women who’ve prepared for them for most of their lives–not just for the last two weeks.


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