Exploring Alternative Pain Management Methods for Sports Injuries
Injuries are inevitable in sports, and athletes face this risk throughout their careers, whether during training or while competing. This results in frequent visits to their doctors, with some players taking prescribed medication and getting surgeries to heal from their injuries and the pain that came with them.
Others may even turn to a holistic approach like mindfulness meditation training or herbal medicine like terpenes for pain and inflammation relief. However, these treatments alone may not exclusively help athletes get back on their feet or relieve them of the lingering ache.
Fortunately, there are now many forms of therapy that players can take to support them in their recovery and alleviate the pain. This article lists some of those alternative pain management methods for athletes.
Physical therapy is among the most common treatments to help relieve pain for both athletes and non-athletes. This method can effectively treat chronic pain by strengthening the muscles and improving motor functions.
To do this, a physical therapist (PT) will conduct a physical assessment to determine the athlete's condition and the severity of their pain. This evaluation will also consider other factors such as the player's history of injuries, activities, challenges they face, and the strength of their supporting muscles and joints.
After this assessment, the PT will create a specific strength and conditioning plan that treats the athlete's unique condition. The program will include passive treatment that will relieve pain, reduce muscle spasms, and minimize inflammation.
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This method utilizes different procedures such as ultrasound, transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS), dry needling, and applying hot or cold packs to enhance circulation and blood flow to the affected area.
The plan will also incorporate active treatments to improve the range of motion, restore the muscles in and around the affected area, maintain bone health, and help athletes learn how to deal with their pain.
Active physical therapy involves learning different exercises that correspond to the athlete’s recovery needs including stability training, strength training, and targeted stretches.
Another popular alternative for pain management among athletes is the chiropractic adjustment. This treatment focuses on the spine, where a licensed chiropractor uses pressure to manipulate the joints and realign them to relieve pain, aches, creaks, and strain.
This method also releases built-up tension that accumulates in this area and improves blood flow, which then reduces the common source of pain: inflammation. Chiropractic adjustment can also prevent minor injuries from developing into major ones.
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Despite spinal manipulation being the focal point of this treatment, chiropractic adjustment also includes other pain-relieving methods such as:
- Ergonomic training - increases posture awareness and helps athletes understand how their posture affects their pain. This method also guides them on how to walk, sit, and stand properly to minimize muscle strain.
- Soft-tissue therapy - targets muscles, tendons, and ligaments where pain persists. It helps increase blood circulation for tissue recovery and loosens the knots to relieve muscle tightness. This treatment also results in better mobility.
- Joint bracing and taping - provide support to the affected area to help it heal. This method can do so by alleviating the pressure between the skin and the tissue below it, thereby improving blood and lymphatic fluid flow.
- Exercises and stretches - are used to correct the general range of motion and strengthen the body's muscles. It also relieves soreness and pain as it increases circulation, especially in target areas.
Massage therapy is another viable alternative to reduce pain from sports injuries. It offers a relaxing way to speed up the recovery process and improve the athlete’s range of motion.
This method does so by kneading the affected muscle groups and soft tissue to ease tension, loosen knots, and temper trigger points. It also breaks up the scar tissue that develops following a sports injury, thereby reducing muscle inflammation.
What’s more, massage therapy promotes better blood circulation. This improved flow enables the muscles to heal faster and lessens the pain as it efficiently delivers oxygen and nutrients throughout the body.
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This alternative pain management treatment comes in various forms, and the type that athletes can include in their recovery plan depends on several factors:
- The type and severity of the injury
- Pain tolerance
- The athlete’s general health and fitness condition
- Doctor’s advice
Each of the different types of massage therapy offers varying benefits. Some will help the body relax (Swedish massage, hot stone massage, and reflexology), while others focus on promoting pain relief (deep tissue massage, trigger point massage, sports massage, and shiatsu).
This treatment can also relieve period cramps among menstruating athletes. Massage therapy that focuses on the abdominal area relaxes the uterus and helps reduce uterine spasms. Getting a full body massage, especially after working out while on their period, also reduces their stress and relieves menstrual cramps.
It will take a while before the results of the aforementioned treatments take full effect. That length of time can vary from weeks to months, depending on the severity of the athlete’s pain. If they want faster results, laser therapy is a viable option.
Laser therapy, also known as low-level laser therapy (LLLT), provides quick relief for body pain. This method uses visible light radiation and wavelengths to penetrate the skin and tissues to reduce inflammation and pain.
After penetrating the target area, the cells in the body absorb the light energy from the laser and convert it into cell energy. This conversion suppresses the pain in that area and reduces inflammatory pathways. Each session for this therapy only takes a few minutes and delivers fast pain-relieving results.
It may sound painful but LLLT is done without undergoing invasive surgery or demanding activities. Moreover, the lasers used for LLLT do not emit heat — which is why some call it cold laser therapy — that could damage the muscles or tissues in the affected area.
However, other treatments may still be needed for pain management, depending on the athlete’s condition and the advice of their attending physician. Some may also need multiple sessions before starting to feel the results of this pain management method.
Athletes experiencing pain from injuries or training can opt for alternative pain management methods in addition to prescribed medication and surgeries. These alternatives include physical therapy, chiropractic adjustment, massage treatments, and laser therapy.
Each of these treatments offers different benefits and should be chosen based on the type and severity of the injury, pain tolerance, general health and fitness condition, and doctor's advice.
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