Sports injuries that don’t go away

Jan-Joost Verhoef| https://flic.kr/p/6qqqCU

Jan-Joost Verhoef| https://flic.kr/p/6qqqCU

There are many cases of sports injuries that don’t go away. They linger on and on, becoming increasingly impacting as the sensitivity builds, often accompanied with varying patterns swelling and stiffness. Understanding what is happening is the key to deciding upon the right action to change course and recover. The way that your body and you respond is determined by the circumstances of the injury, prior experiences (injured the area before? previous injuries?), beliefs about pain and injury, genetics, the immediate thoughts and messages given by others and the action taken at that point, including pain relief. Here are some of the reasons:

  • The circumstances of the injury: how healthy you are, how you are feeling at the time, where you are, how the injury happened (your fault? Someone else’s fault? An accident? In fact, it is how you perceive it that is important, not the actual reality), your first automatic thoughts, the time of the game, the importance of the game — all of these factors come together, physical-emotional to create a memory of that moment, the pain intensity determined by the perceived level of threat, and not the extent of the tissue damage (consider the player who has a break but does not realise until later). The way you and your body respond to an injury will be very different if you are stressed vs relaxed for example.
  • Previous injuries leave their mark in terms of how you think about them and the associated pain. If you have injured the area before, then there is a greater likelihood that it will hurt because the body will protect more readily. If you have had a good or a bad experience before, this affects how your body systems that heal and protect will kick in.
  • Your beliefs about pain and injury that began to be sculpted in the early days of bumps and bruises and in particular how people around you reacted — too much mollycoddling by parents/teachers is perhaps not great for how we learn to deal effectively with injury; that’s both in the way we think but also how our biological systems work. What you are thinking will impact upon the pain (‘I must get up and play on in this cup final’ vs ‘it is the end of my career’ = very different biologies), and hence the early messages given by the clinicians and therapists must be accurate and calming.
  • It seems that we can have a genetic predisposition to over-responding to injury, with inflammation kicking in as it should but more vigorously. Some people are more inflammatory that others so it seems.
  • The early actions after an injury, including the messages as mentioned above, are really important to set up healing. It is normal for an injury to hurt, however in cases of severe pain, this needs to be addressed with the right analgesia. Early high levels of pain can affect the trajectory of the problem.

For these reasons and others, some injuries appear to persist or recur, which is highly frustrating for the individual, and for the therapists. Sometimes the factors mentioned above set into place a level of sensitivity and certain protective behaviours that mean protection is vigorous — this in terms of the way the person thinks, acts and their biology plays out. This needs to be identified as quickly as possible so that the right treatment can be administered alongside working with the player to developing his or her thinking. Whatever is playing out in their minds will be affecting their biological responses, in a positive or a negative way, so we must intervene or encourage depending on the predominant thought processes.

When an individual is experiencing an on-going issue there are a range of factors to consider and address, some relating to the points above. Hearing their complete story is a vital start point, including an understanding of their perception of the events to date, as well as prior experiences that will flavour what happened then and what is happening now.

Here are some examples of the common features:

  • Often the body continues to try and heal, squirting inflammatory chemicals into the area periodically or in response to movement. This is neurogenic inflammation and sensitises just like inflammation from a fresh injury and is part of the sensitised state, but co-ordinated by higher centres
  • Rarely does the person understand their pain, which creates worry and concern. Remember that chronic stress can make us more inflammatory — also consider other life stresses as these will impact; if the body/person is in survive mode (fright-flight), then resources for healing and recovery are limited.
  • Altered movement patterns, in part from fear/lack of confidence but also as part of protect mode. These must be re-trained from the right baseline (often people start too far down the line and fail)
  • A belief that there is a re-injury when in fact it is a flare up, or an increase in sensitivity, not an actual injury

In brief, we must ensure that the individual’s thinking is right — understand pain and injury, their pain and injury — and that they are taking the right actions towards recovery (a negative thought or over-training will not take you towards recovery); but they need to be able to think clearly about this themselves, because they are with themselves all the time whereas the therapist is with them periodically. They need to become their own coach, which is why I developed the Pain Coach Programme — not only are we coaching them, but also teaching them to become their own coach. When the understanding and thinking is in place, the training and exercises are all straightforward. I use no fancy tools or kit to coach and treat, except of course the most fancy piece of kit we all possess, our brains! But let’s not be all brain-centric; we are talking whole person. It is the person who is injured, not their leg or arm; it is the person who feels pain in the context of who they believe they are and in their life, not a leg or an arm. The person feels hungry, not their stomach. Remembering this when educating, coaching and treating creates the right thinking platform.

Pain Coach 1:1 Mentoring Programme for Clinicians — see here or call us 07518 445493

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