As an athlete, one of the most important things you can do is care for your body. Your coaches understand this, which is why they remind you daily to warm up, stretch and hydrate – even on the off days. And it’s best if you follow their advice so you don’t find out the hard way… like I did. Because it’s a long, painful road to recovery.
Sitting long periods of time before training, or even practice, causes your muscles to become tight and lose flexibibility. This is why stretching is so important. Without stretching or reinforcing range of motion, muscle fibers begin to shorten, creating that ‘tight’ feeling during movement.
A few common injuries that occur from lack of mobility are muscle strains and joint pain. A muscle strain is when your muscle is torn or overstretched and occurs when a muscle is overused or moved improperly. Joint pain is discomfort or inflammation in the joint. This type of pain typically occurs from overruse or from a strain.
There was a time as an athlete when I thought, “I don’t need to stretch that much before practice”. I was very wrong…
During the 8th grade, I participated in Cheerleading and Track & Field. One day, my teammate and I were on the trampoline and thought it would be fun to practice our jumps. We we were just messing around, seeing how well we could each perform a toe touch (for those of you who don’t know, a toe toch is when you jump straight up and do a straddle split in the air, keeping the toes pointed and arms reaching towards the toes). I climbed onto the trampoline and started forcefully jumping to increase my vertical. Once I got to the height I wanted, I performed the toe touch. If only that had been the end of the story… When I was at the top position, I heard something that sounded like a person tearing a piece of paper. Immeditately, I felt pain rush through my body. We climbed off the trampoline and, leaning onto my friend for support, we walked into the house. I could barely walk on my leg without cringing in pain.
My mom picked me up and we went straight to the urgent care. The doctor told me I had a slight tear in my hamstring and I would need to be on crutches for 3-4 weeks. This devastating news changed the plan for my athletic year.
Treatment and Process of Recovery
Recovery of the muscle depends on the severity of the injury. If the injury is serious, then surgery may be an option. Other less-serious injuries can be treated from home.
Thankfully, my injury was considered minor and I therefore did not need to undergo surgery. I was, however, given a list of explicit instructions by my doctor. She told me to RICE:
- R – Rest. Rest is important to reduce swelling in the muscle.
- I – Ice. Ice helps keep the swelling and inflammation of the muscle down.
- C – Compression. A compression band or wrap will provide support and decrease swelling.
- E – Elevation. Elevating the injury will also aid in reducing swelling.
Additionally, I had to have my leg wrapped in a compression band for the entire day and was rarely allowed to take it off. But I think the worst part of it all was having to miss out on my athletic events that year. Learn from my mistake. Stretch!