Physical activity and sports related muscle injuries wear out our parts, and more aggressive activity wears our parts out more quickly. There are lots of examples in those who were professional athletes in their younger years. Despite this, exercise is one of the best therapies for almost everything. Even people with terminal cancer live longer and better if they exercise.
Fortunately, our body has tremendous ability to regenerate our parts. We can repair skinned knees, knit broken bones back together, and even regrow joint cartilage.
What causes the pain of chronic injury?
Most of the pain of sports related muscle injuries from repetitive strain and micro trauma is caused by muscle and fascia (myofascial pain) and not inflammation or scar tissue. Muscles develop pain generating myofascial develop trigger points, and tendons that attach the muscles develop small tears. Then when the muscle contracts against the injured tendon, the trigger points fire and pain prevents further injury.
How do we best treat sports related muscle injuries?
Dry needling, trigger point injections, and myofascial release are usually the most rapidly effective therapies for problems like tennis elbow, golfers’ elbow, plantar fasciitis, and what is often called “bursitis” in various locations. If trigger point injections are not enough, then the tendons and associated ligaments may also have to be treated.
How do we heal?
Our body uses the same mechanisms to heal many different parts. When we sprain an ankle, some of the ligaments that hold the joint together get torn or over-stretched. This injury sets off a reaction that takes weeks to complete.
Right after the injury inflammatory chemicals get released that make the nearby blood vessels leak fluid and white blood cells into the area of injury. This makes the ankle swell, and the white blood cells release enzymes that clean up the inured tissue. As a result of this “soup,” about 3 days after injury fibroblast cells find their way to the injury. These cells rebuild and regrow the injured ligaments.
What stops healing?
The healing process is greatly slowed or stopped by anti-inflammatory medications like ibuprofen, and also nicotine in the blood. Ice slows metabolism and healing also.
How long does the healing process take?
The process of healing continues for several weeks, and even months. Broken bones and injured ligaments reach approximately 90% of strength in 6 weeks.
What can be done to accelerate healing?
Most important is to get out of the way of our body, stopping smoking and not taking anti-inflammatory medications. Next is to take extra vitamin C and zinc. Studies on wounded soldiers showed the importance of vitamin C and zinc in healing. Lastly, consider applying moist heat to increase blood and nutrient supply and speed up metabolism in the area of injury.
What if I do not heal enough, how can I get more?
Examples of not healing enough include loose joints after sprains, and partially torn tendons. For both of these examples, we can get our body to “rerun” the same healing program if we simply re-injure the body part. A controlled and tiny injury can be made with an acupuncture needle, an injection of dextrose and novocaine (prolotherapy), and most effectively with an injection of your own platelet rich plasma. Once the body’s healing program is restarted, fibroblast cells will come in 3 days to start rebuilding the injured part. Acupuncture provides for the weakest body reaction and slowest healing, compared to the use of platelet rich plasma.