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Monday Medical: Back to sports? Expect sore muscles

Susan Cunningham/For Steamboat Pilot & Today

It’s the time of year for stocking up on school supplies, finding the perfect backpack and limbering up those muscles. For many kids, back to school also means back to sports.

But getting back to sports after a long summer off can be challenging.

“Many kids have had all summer off from organized sports,” said Gina Gower, a physical therapist and athletic trainer at UCHealth SportsMed Clinic in Steamboat Springs. “They’ve had lazy days at the pool and afternoons in the hammock. Now that fall sports are starting, it can be difficult to go from summers off to daily practices.”

Below, Gower outlines what to expect from regular muscle soreness and when to seek medical attention for possible injuries.

Muscle fatigue

Sore, tired muscles are normal when starting a new sport or exercise regimen. Working muscles use up energy, resulting in an acidic environment near muscles that can cause a burning sensation, hence the term, ‘feel the burn.’ The process of strengthening muscles also involves microscopic tears, which may contribute to soreness.

“Muscle fatigue and soreness are a healthy and expected result of exercise,” Gower said. “But, the fatigue will be mild in nature and will improve after rest. You shouldn’t feel pain.”

Delayed onset muscle soreness

Ever wonder why you feel especially tired two days after an intense workout? You can thank delayed onset muscle soreness, which is experienced 24 to 72 hours after activity and can last two to four days.

“This soreness will be located in your muscles, not in your joints,” Gower said. “Muscles will be tender to touch and sore to use. They may feel tired, achy, burning or dull.”

Treatment involves light aerobic activity to flush out lactic acid buildup, hydration, stretching, massage and ice. This soreness is not a sign of overtraining or injury, but rather a sign of overdoing it once or twice.

Tendonitis and impingement

Classified as an overuse syndrome, tendonitis and impingement result from inflammation, microtrauma or microtearing that is caused by repetitive motions – for instance, hitting a tennis ball over and over.

In initial stages, pain may only be felt after activity, but as the injury progresses, pain can become constant. “Eventually, this issue can cause loss of mobility and strength,” Gower said.

Avoid painful activities and motions, apply ice and compression, consider an over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medication and try massage. If symptoms don’t improve after a week or two, check in with a medical professional.

Sprains and strains

“This is a more severe injury,” Gower said. “You’ll likely feel more intense discomfort that begins during or immediately after activity.”

A sprain involves stretching or tearing ligaments, while a strain involves stretching or tearing a muscle or tendon. Symptoms include pain, swelling, stiffness, weakness, instability and loss of motion or strength.

The “R.I.C.E.” protocol should be applied to these injuries: rest, use ice and compression and elevate as needed. Gower recommends that anyone who has experienced a sprain or strain be referred to an orthopedic physician and a physical therapist.

A complete rupture of the tissue should be treated in the emergency department or by an orthopedic physician immediately.

As summer comes to a close, enjoy the re-entry to fall sports. Just don’t be surprised if those muscles feel sore, and don’t ignore signs of injury.

“Pay attention to any signs that you’re experiencing something more severe than good old-fashioned muscle soreness,” Gower said. “If concerns about an injury arise, remember to seek help from your school athletic trainer, physical therapist or doctor. Good nutrition, staying hydrated and getting adequate rest between practices will go a long way to helping you recover more quickly.”

Susan Cunningham writes for UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center. She can be reached at cunninghamsbc@gmail.com.


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