No Pain? Your Gain
Don’t play harder—play smarter. How to avoid the most common athletic injuries
By Amy Lynn Smith

Watching the power, grace and determination of Olympic athletes can inspire the rest of us to get off the couch and exercise—that is, until reality soon knocks us flat on our aching backs.

Starting an exercise program too fast can be a prescription for injury. “People often forget they’re not as young or flexible as they once were,” says Don LeMay, DO, a sports medicine specialist with the OSU Sports Medicine Center.

And many people make it worse by not listening to their bodies. “‘No pain, no gain’ really doesn’t have any place in athletics,” says Jim Borchers, MD, also a sports medicine specialist. “Pain is your body telling you that something’s wrong and you need to stop.”

Staying Out of Trouble
LeMay and Borchers are physicians at the OSU Sports Medicine Center, where their patients include many OSU athletes and the general
public. Here’s their expert take on cures for the most common sports injuries they see.

Ankle Sprains and Strains
A number of factors can lead to ankle sprains, including poor technique and uneven terrain. And, according to Borchers, having the right footwear for your sport is paramount.
If you’ve had ankle problems in the past, an ankle brace can provide extra stability to prevent re-injury. Physical therapy after an injury can increase strength and range of motion.

Knee Pain
Knee injuries are often caused by improper technique, lack of conditioning and poor flexibility. While it’s important to build up training gradually to avoid overuse, the mechanics of a runner’s feet can also come into play, LeMay says. “Do you have flat feet or high arches? Or do you tend to walk more on the inside or outside of your feet? All of these factors can contribute to knee pain,” he explains. Appropriate footwear or orthotics—shoe inserts to improve body alignment—can be helpful in reducing injury risk.

Lower Back Pain
Lower back pain is a common complaint—and inactivity is the biggest culprit, LeMay says.
“As we get older and less active, we lose the balance in the deep abdominal and lower back muscles,” he explains. “They’re weakened and easily fatigued, leading to pain.”
Consistent activity is the best way to protect your lower back, including regular exercise and stretching.

Elbow Problems
Tennis players and golfers are particularly prone to elbow injuries. Although conditioning is important here, proper technique is critical, Borchers says. “If you can, take a class or get professional golf or tennis instruction,” he suggests. “Equipment can be an issue, too, like making sure your tennis racket has an adequate grip size.”

Shoulder Injuries
Frequently seen in throwing sports, rotator cuff tendonitis is a common cause of shoulder pain. Staying in shape and easing back into an activity are the best ways to prevent problems.

“People want to throw the football around with family and friends on Thanksgiving weekend,” says LeMay, “but if it’s not an activity they’re used to, the muscles of the rotator cuff can get inflamed.”

You Can’t Win ’Em All
Even with precautions, you may still experience some pain while exercising. If so, ease off immediately. Apply ice for 15 to 20 minutes several times a day and
elevate the injured area. Wrapping the area in an elastic bandage—compression—is recommended in many instances, including ankle sprains.

Any injury that remains painful for more than two or three days should be examined by a physician. In some cases surgery may be necessary, but most overuse injuries can be treated with physical therapy. “Even if someone’s been injured, we want them to stay active,” LeMay says. Sometimes, he adds, it’s just a matter of finding a new activity.

Play Like a Winner
Want to stay in the game without getting hurt? It’s as simple as taking the appropriate steps.

Ready: Make sure you have everything you need to participate safely in the sport. Do you know how to play it properly? Do you understand its physical demands? Do you have the right equipment—and is it still in good condition?

Set: Exercise regularly and have a pre-season conditioning program to gradually build up strength, duration and fitness for specific disciplines. Take time to warm up before each session, whether by stretching or just starting out at a slower, easier pace.

Go: Even if you’ve been injured, don’t
just sit there. Reduce physical activity by about 50 percent and cross-train with other sports or exercises that don’t irritate the injured area. If you’re given physical rehabilitation exercises, keep doing them even after the injury has healed to maintain strength and conditioning.

Pain Relief
When “weekend warrior” activities get the best of you, you can rely on the OSU Sports Medicine Center's physicians for the best care. To schedule an appointment or learn more, call (800) 293-5123.