There are several components to understanding injury, and in large part it is variable on a case-by-case basis.
Here we will cover the basics involved in understanding injury:
What causes injuries
How are they classified
How to prevent them.
Your physical therapist or healthcare professional should determine the classification of your own injury and where to begin treatment.
Understanding Injury: What are the causes of injury?
An acute injury happens due to a sudden overload to a tissue. With a muscle strain it may be due to a runner accelerating to very large strides without warming up first, leading the hamstring muscle to get strained. With a ligament sprain it may be due to a twisting of the ankle putting a large load on the ligaments and causing slight tears.
Another way to get acute injuries is to perform exercises too quickly with poor form, losing your concentration, or performing past failure without someone to spot you or support you. It’s always a good idea to have a training partner to watch out for you.
The final way to get an acute injury is of course by accident. You have a misstep, or a fall, or get overloaded in some way and you become injured.
A chronic overuse injury may occur due to repeatedly overloading the tissues inappropriately. For example, if you exercise a certain body part too frequently without giving adequate days of rest you will start to fatigue the muscle leading to weakness, compensations, and eventually injury. Postural deficiencies can also lead to chronic pain. A great example is sedentary individuals who use their upper traps excessively to lift their arms (this is due to a postural deficit outside of the scope of this blog post). Eventually, these individuals will complain of constant nagging neck pain and/or headaches. If you are experiencing this type of pain, it is important to consult a physical therapist to determine which movement patterns are causing it and how to keep it from getting worse.
It is important to prevent your acute injuries from becoming chronic acute injuries. This commonly happens with ankle sprains. The individual may wait for the sprain to just heal on its own without going through any rehabilitative process to strengthen the muscles around the ankle. Over the following years they may have a misstep here and there and re-injure the ankle until it becomes a chronic pain and the individual stops performing at a high level.
Understanding Injury: How are injuries are classified?
Injuries are, for the most part, classified by stages of time. There are acute, subacute, post-acute, and chronic injuries. Chronic injuries can be further divided into chronic recurring and chronic overuse. The importance of this classification has a lot to do with tissue healing and how to best progress towards recovery and avoid re-injury.
Acute: Injuries that happen suddenly due to an overload in force. Examples include strains, sprains, or contusions. The time frame is 0-4 days after injury. For the first couple of days after an acute injury PRICE should be followed: Protection, Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation.
Subacute: An acute injury that has progressed past the 3-4 day but is under the 2 week mark.
Post-acute: 2-4 weeks.
Chronic: Past 4 weeks. Chronic recurring: these are acute injuries (sudden onset) that occur repeatedly over time (such as a chronic sprained ankle). Chronic overuse: these are caused by low-intensity forces over a long period of time (such as a tendonosis).
Understanding Injury: How do I prevent injury?
Physical therapy is often thought of as a treatment for an injury after it has already happened, but physical therapy can help you prevent injuries as well! If you feel nagging pain somewhere in your body; don’t ignore it. Get help before that small discomfort becomes an acute injury. Physical therapists can treat and correct movement patterns and prevent that injury from even occurring.
If you’re sick of constantly worrying if your hip is going to hold up for your entire run, or if you’ve been avoiding lifting as heavy as you want because you don’t know if your back can handle it, come see us. We at the Doctors of Physical Therapy are here to make sure you stay fit, mobile, and active by getting rid of those small nagging aches and preventing injury altogether.