Sports medicine – treating the athlete in all of us

Despite teaching fitness classes for almost three decades, running for years, and cycling, boxing, skiing, playing tennis, taking up Hip-Hop in my forties, and enjoying just about every form of physical activity, including many activities with my dog, I have never considered myself an athlete. I often joke that I enjoy everything, but don’t excel at anything – and this is just fine by me, since really, it’s the participation that counts. When you see kids running around playing, perhaps even breathless from a game of tag, they’d look at you as though you were half-mad if you stopped them and said: “good for you guys for getting some great exercise”. To kids, it’s all about fun, and when it comes to being active, “fun” is what we adults should ideally be aiming for too.

Over the course of my active life, I’ve had many injuries – ankle sprains, a dislocated shoulder, hamstring and quadricep injuries, achilles injuries, knee pain, and what was until recently, my personal favorite – a herniated disc from bending over in some awkward way to retrieve a shoe from a closet.

Three years ago, while doing squats followed by high kicks and side kicks, I heard a crunch sound come from my groin, that was immediately followed by searing pain. Being in my forties but still very flexible, I couldn’t imagine it was anything serious, stuck an ice pack on it, and told myself I’d be better in a day or two. Sadly, that was not the case. The pain grew worse, my intense stretching regime did more harm than good, I limped for months, I took anti-inflammatory meds prescribed by a physician, spent weeks on bed rest, and mourned my active lifestyle. I even cancelled a trip I had been looking forward to.

Finally, upon the recommendation of a marathon-running friend, I reluctantly made an appointment with a sports medicine doctor, imagining my weakened self sitting in the waiting room along with much younger, professional athletes with muscles from Brussels. That was not the case at all. In fact, I found myself, ice pack on my groin and all, sitting in the waiting room among people of all ages – some who looked ultra fit, and others who to be frank, looked as though their idea of physical activity was holding a cold drink in one hand while cheering on their favorite team from the couch. Don’t misunderstand, I’m not judging. I’ve been known to hit the couch with a cold one myself… GO RAPS!

That day, I learned that sports medicine doctors treat everyone – all ages, all fitness levels, and more musculoskeletal conditions than I knew existed. I also learned that while my injury was serious, there was hope for a reasonable, if not full recovery.

Sports medicine doctors specialize in the non-operative treatment of musculoskeletal conditions (since very few require surgery) and seeing one promptly after an injury is a good idea. It may not have been your corner kick that got you injured, it might have been booting a bag of leaves to the curb – or pruning a tree (neck pain anyone?), lifting the grandkids, a slip and fall, or just doing too much of something you enjoy. In Canada, you don’t need a referral to see a sports medicine doctor – just find one near you, call them up, and hand over your health card. That’s how I found Dr. Douglas Stoddard of SEMI in Toronto who has been helping me work through injuries of my own.

Sports Medicine doctors can maximize non-operative treatment, help guide your road to recovery, and make referrals to other specialists if required. They’ve seen it all – acute injuries such as sprains and strains, overuse injuries that nag on endlessly, fractures, arthritis, and mystery aches and pains you can’t quite point to, but that keep you from the things you enjoy. They also have additional training in the non-musculoskeletal aspects of sports medicine – things like head injuries and concussion, nutrition, supplement use, return-to-play decisions, and overall healthy lifestyle promotion. If you want to talk about aches and pains with someone whose eyes won’t glaze over, these physicians are your people.

Even if it turns out that a little rest and some time will be your best medicine (sometimes they are, often they’re not), a sports medicine doctor will evaluate your injury, guide you through the acute stage of an injury (advising on best type of pain relief for example), help you find ways of remaining active, and work with you to determine when you’re ready to progress from one stage of rehab to the next. Don’t expect a prescription for a month or two of strict rest, ordering in pizza, and movies. They know what’s in your best interest, and once through the acute phase of an injury, you should pretty much expect they’ll want you moving with care and taking an active role in your recovery.

As far as I’m concerned and speaking from personal experience, people don’t take soft tissue injuries as seriously as they should. “It hurts but it won’t do me in,” they say. True enough, but there is a cost to these injuries and related pain if they persist – to your physical and mental health. In time, inactivity makes us weaker and gradually robs us of many of the things we enjoy and that benefit our health most – exercise, work, socializing with friends and family, time outdoors, even the activities of daily living like running errands, cooking, and walking the dog.

My advice: whether you’re inactive, moderately active, a weekend warrior, or a professional athlete, have an injury evaluated promptly. Early intervention could save you a lot of time, pain and aggravation later.