All flexibility related injuries are overload injuries. The overload can be 'acute'; for example, you lose control and slip while stretching, or it can be 'chronic', which means you have been doing too much, too soon, with inadequate recovery. Chronic overload puts you at significantly increased risk of an acute overload incident.
Acute Overload Injuries
If you lose control in a stretch, your body may preferentially 'pop' a muscle or tendon to protect more valuable tissue (eg a joint). Acute overload injuries present as;
- a 'pop' (you may hear of feel).
- Sudden pain.
- Bruising & swelling.
If you experience these symptoms, you have likely done some tissue damage, and you should stop training straight away. The risk of increasing any harm if you continue training is high. Usually, the severity of the injury is masked by adrenaline, endorphins, endogenous opioids, heat and your enthusiasm to continue.
What to do after a 'pop'
Immediately stop training, rest, elevate and compress the injured area, if possible. The scientific consensus is that ice isn't essential but can help manage pain. Taking anti-inflammatories *may be helpful in the short term, but they also slow your bodies natural healing ability (inflammation is an essential part of the healing process). I think anti-inflammatories have a net benefit when pain affects your sleep or your ability to complete rehabilitation.
After an acute overload injury, it's important to consult a medical professional experienced in managing these injuries (eg a sports physio). Even if you have experienced a similar injury in the past, it's worth a review, as it's challenging to manage your own rehabilitation and recovery. It's very common for people to shortcut their rehabilitation and end up re-injuring.
Chronic overload injuries
Most stretching related injuries are chronic overuse injuries. Often they occur when you increase your training load and neglect active recovery at the same time. Chronic overload injuries can be more challenging to identify.You may have a chronic overload injury when;
- You experience reduced range in one joint or stiffness of one muscle group, usually associated with pain.
- You don't remember a specific incident but notice that an area has been niggling for a while or hasn't settled after training as you expect it to.
- There is no bruising or swelling, and any weakness is mild.
- Pain and stiffness significantly improve with heat and movement.
- It feels better with time off, but symptoms return when you get back to training.
- You start avoiding training or provocative activities, but the pain and stiffness don't resolve.
What to do if you think you have a chronic overload injury
Firstly, keep moving but manage the risk of further injury by reducing your training load and minimising aggravating movements. Next, increase any active recovery activities (EG Gentle stretching, heat, ice baths, mindfulness, walking, massage). Acknowledge any unhelpful emotions you are experiencing and take practical, positive steps and to improve your recovery. If you experience the above symptoms with minimal improvement over a week, or if it's affecting your training or general life, it's worth getting an expert opinion. A professional will be able to help you get back to training as usual as soon as possible and reduce your risk of re-injury.
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