Injury Back

It sucks, but injury is pretty common in our sports.

Whether you're a surfer, snowboarder, runner or climber, you guaranteed to encounter injuries at some point.

Sometimes it’s obvious what you should do – no amount of RICE (rest, ice, compression, elevation) is going to heal a broken wrist – but often it’s a guessing game.

Nobody wants to stop, even for afternoon, but if an afternoon sitting out saves you from a season-long injury, it’s worth it. But how can you tell?

We spoke to sports physician Dr Courtney Kipps to find out...

Knee Injury

Knees are complicated, and in women they’re especially prone to injury. If you're a skier or runner, then you may well suffer from knee pain at some point.

Fortunately, most knee pain gets better on its own. If it only hurts when you exercise, you’re in the clear.

However, if it hurts at other times – when you’re at the cinema or walking upstairs – it could be patellofemoral syndrome.

“This is the most common cause of knee pain in sportswomen," says Dr Kipps, “The femur has a groove where the knee cap sits, but sometimes the cap moves to one side. This allows pressure to build up, causing a deep pain."

If your knees are swelling, locking or giving way, don’t ignore it...

Weak stabilising muscles – your glutes – are the root cause, so spend two weeks doing squats, making sure your knees don’t drift inwards, before you get back on the horse.

Thankfully this doesn’t cause long-term damage, but remember – the longer you go without R&R, the longer the pain will last.

If your knees are swelling, locking or giving way, don’t ignore it. Swelling and instability indicates an ACL tear, and locking points to a tear in the meniscus, your knee’s shock-absorbing cartilage.

Either way, you need an MRI to diagnose and, in the worst cases, surgery. An ACL tear will take you out of action for 9 to 12 months, 6 to 9 months for a meniscal tear, and then your physician will help you get back in the game.

Prevention is always better than the cure, so to keep your knees healthy work on those stabilising glutes before anything goes wrong.

Head Injury

Helmets are commonplace on the slopes and in skate parks now. If recent science has taught us anything, it’s that we need to take extra care of our brains.

But that’s not to say every single knock to the head is worth sitting out for. If your dizziness subsides within a minute, you’re probably good to go.

“If you’ve lost consciousness," Dr Kipps says, “have significant pain or drowsiness, or any sign of behavioural change or confusion, you need to go to A&E.

"Often someone else will point out that you’re acting differently – you might not recognise it in yourself, so trust them. And remember - you don’t always have to have hit your head. Whiplash can cause concussion too."

You only get one brain - keep it healthy...

Once A&E have ruled out brain injury, bleeding and skull fractures – all quite unlikely – you’ll be sent home with a concussion and orders to stay awake.

Dr Kipps says, “Like with any injury, you need to allow your brain to rest – maybe take a few days off work and avoid too much mental stimulation.

"Generally, you’ll be better within a week, but three weeks off sport is the standard advice."

Doctors think that you become more susceptible to concussion after the first one, so if you’re getting them recurrently, it’s time to think about stopping.

As gut-wrenching as it is, you only get one brain – keep it healthy.

Calf Injury

Aching calves aren’t uncommon after a week in ski boots, but if you’re feeling a sharp, localised pain just below the knee when you stretch, it might be something more.

“Around this time of year, I see a lot of calf tears in skiiers," says Dr Kipps, “and they’re unusual in that they’re so high on the leg – usually they’re lower down, but because of the ski boots they tend to be higher up in skiiers."

Less serious muscle tears will be fine after a week’s rest, but if you experience a sudden, sharp pain and can’t contract the muscle, you need to go to A&E – it’s likely to need surgery.

“Pain at the front of the shin is harder to diagnose," Dr Kipps says, “Stress fractures aren’t common in skiing or skateboarding, but if you run regularly or play any other sports that involve consistent impact, this could be the cause."

If it’s a stress fracture, exercising will make it worse. You’ll have to stop for six weeks and wear a brace...

Stress fractures are caused when bones break down during exercise, like muscles do, but aren’t given time to build back up again. It feels like a deep, gnawing pain on impact and it will get progressively worse – always in a specific spot along the bone.

More often than not, shin pain is caused by medial tibial stress syndrome – inflammation and pain along the inside of the tibia caused by weakness in the ankle stabilising muscles. Balancing on one leg on something unstable, like a pillow, will help.

If you feel an ache at the start of exercise which goes away, then comes back, it could be this – but Dr Kipps says with shin pain, it’s better to be safe.

“You need an MRI to diagnose," he says, “If it’s a stress fracture, exercising will make it worse. You’ll have to stop for six weeks and wear a pneumatic air brace – a grey medical boot – to hold your leg in position while it heals. After that, you can gradually reintroduce yourself to exercise."

Dr Courtney Kipps is a consultant sports physician at The Institute of Sport, Exercise and Health