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101 Guide to Empowering Yourself: Alternative Sports Injury Treatments

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With activities on the rise, so are sprains and strains. It’s important for today’s fitness enthusiasts to take charge of their wellness and explore potential treatment options for their sports-related injuries. Unfortunately, it’s really easy to just stick to the familiar. However, depending on the injury, various treatment options and methods are available.

And, just like we introduce new activities to boost our fitness regime, so can we improve our approach to our well-being and recovery.

So, instead of just having the sports medicine doctor, physiotherapist, or chiropractor provide a plan, Team Canada’s men’s soccer team’s physiotherapist Greg Bay says that “Today’s athlete is becoming more aware of their bodies and is coming to their sports practitioners with suggestions and options for consideration. So instead of being passive throughout the process, they’re actively engaging in their management plan.”

The approaches may differ based on the overall treatment plans; however, as with most injuries, the objective is to help the body’s natural healing process by promoting greater blood circulation to the affected area.

Acupuncture vs. Dry Needling

Acupuncture is rooted in traditional Chinese medicine principles and used for musculoskeletal pain and to balance the body’s energy flow, whereas dry needling is a Western technique that targets trigger points in muscles to release tension and promote healing.

Dry needling is sometimes referred to as intramuscular stimulation,” says Dr. Cameron Borody, sports chiropractor with the Cleveland Clinic in Toronto. “When injuries are hard to reach, and we need to access areas of tissue which are deep in the muscle, needles are inserted into these tense bands of muscles causing them to contract or switch, stimulating your muscles and releasing those trigger points.”

Benefits: Dry needling helps start the body’s healing process by increasing blood flow to the injured area, aids in pain relief, and can increase range of motion. “Many of my patients suffering from joint pain, plantar fasciitis, shin splints, Achilles strain, and more, have used dry needling as part of their overall treatment plan.”

Shockwave Therapy

Soft tissue injuries can occur when muscles are subjected to repetitive strain or overuse. Shockwave therapy is an effective treatment option that can help elongate muscles that have become shortened due to knots or trigger points. Chris Broadhurst, the director of the Toronto Athletic Club Sports Medicine Clinic, explains how it works: “By sending acoustic sound waves into the soft tissue, shockwave therapy helps break down these knots and trigger points, which can relax the muscle and encourage it to lengthen.”
Benefits: Shockwave therapy essentially causes a “focused re-injury” to the tissue, resulting in the formation of new vessels, says Dr. Lawrence Micheli, chiropractor and clinic manager. This treatment is particularly effective for conditions like plantar fasciitis and tendinopathy, such as Achilles or patellar tendon issues.

Cupping

Cupping gained renewed attention after Michael Phelps, a U.S. swimmer, was spotted with circular marks on his body during the 2016 Rio Olympics. Since then, cupping as a treatment has seen a resurgence. “It’s a traditional Chinese technique that involves heating a glass cup to reduce air and create suction,” says Greg Bay. “Today, most cups have a valve to create and release the pressure over the injured area.”

Benefits: “Cupping creates negative pressure on a tissue to improve the circulation and nutrition to the area while helping to separate the fascial layers to reduce tightness,” points out Bay. “The muscle and fascia can get bound down from injury and strain, so instead of massaging, which is a positive pressure on the tissue, cupping produces a negative pressure that can separate those fascial layers and reduce pain.”

OrthoBiologics Treatment—Platelet-Rich Plasma (PRP)

Dr. Michael Clarfield, sports medicine physician at the Toronto Cleveland Clinic, suggests that a promising area of sports medicine is using biologic agents through injections to treat inflamed and injured joints.

“Sometimes referred to as ‘blood spinning,’ by drawing your blood and putting it in a centrifuge, your blood is used to stimulate and heal the damaged tissue,” says Clarfield. “The centrifuge separates the blood into layers, isolating platelets and plasma with a concentration three to five times higher than normal blood. This process helps to stimulate the healing process.”

Benefits: Using PRP therapy can reduce recovery time and potentially avoid the need for more invasive treatments, such as surgery. This treatment is ideal for soft tissue—ligaments, muscle, soft tendons.

Cortisone shots

Cortisone shots are synthetic drugs that resemble cortisol—a hormone your adrenal glands produce naturally. They’re different from anabolic steroids and is not a performance-enhancing drug.

“They’re administered by a physician directly into the damaged tissue,” explains Clarfield, “most often guided by ultrasound for accurate needle placement.”

Benefits: This treatment is designed to reduce inflammation and alleviate pain in joints and tendons.

Massage Therapy

Erin Reid, registered massage therapist (RMT) and clinical director at Coast Therapy in Coquitlam, British Columbia, recommends massage therapy as being your best friend physically and mentally. Depending on your needs, treatments vary and could include soft tissue release, myofascial, or trigger point release.

Benefits: Sports massage therapy differs from traditional massage therapy in both the techniques used and the therapeutic goals, including the rehabilitation of injuries, prevention of new injuries, and treatment and prevention of secondary problems. It can also help reduce muscle tightness and some injuries caused by overuse that may occur in soft tissue, such as strains, in addition to improving range of motion.

Takeaway

It’s important to understand that not all treatments may be right for you. As you seek to obtain a sustainable recovery and enjoy your active lifestyle, you should work with a qualified sports clinician who will provide both a treatment and a functional return-to-activity plan.

And, remember to give your feet some TLC, as advised by Toronto chiropodist Jeffrey Cowen, JD Cowen Foot Clinic, also known as the Foot Guru. “Many of us have a misconception that our bodies are perfectly aligned from head to toe. However, imbalances are quite common, and even foot issues like overpronation or flat feet can contribute to injuries. Plus, as we get older, our feet undergo slight structural changes with every passing decade. The arches tend to drop, and the front of the foot widens gradually.”

So those size 8s now might be an 8.5 or even a 9 later in life. Relax, it’s only a number. What’s important is to prioritize foot care, get the right fitting shoes, and seek advice from a specialist like a chiropodist, podiatrist, or pedorthist to maintain good foot health.

And regardless of the type of injury or treatment modality prescribed, according to Bay, the key to a successful recovery lies in retraining optimal movement patterns. “Pain can change how you move, and our brains can adopt these patterns as the norm. The final step in healing is retraining your brain.”

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