Unfortunately injuries are a part of life for most competitive athletes. Injuries can be caused by things that range from simple overuse to traumatic impact. How the athlete treats and responds to the injury depends largely on the nature of the cause and the severity of the injury. I’m very fortunate to have been relatively injury free over the course of my athletic career, but, in the couple of instances that I have endured an injury, the treatments and recovery have been good lessons learned.
First, let’s break down into categories various types of injuries and potential problem issues.
SORENESS: This can be caused by over use, or it can be caused by properly trained and worked muscles. If you’re a cyclist in the weight room for the first off-season strength building sessions, you’re going to experience muscle soreness even if you’re doing things correctly. Soreness can be treated by not over using the sore muscles alternating ice and heat and incorporate stretching and massage. Some times the use of non steroidal anti-inflammatory meds such as Ibuprofen or Sodium Naproxen is called for. At any rate, soreness eventually goes away, but if you continue to push soreness, it may become…
PAIN: Pain is more indicative of a chronic problem. I’m not speaking of the momentary or short lived pain we all put ourselves through in hard workouts. I’m speaking here of pain that you experience when you aren’t working out. Back, joint, or muscle pain that is consistent, persistent and long lasting can be an indicator that you’re either employing improper technique, bike position, have structural problems or an over-use injury. Seek out the opinion and diagnosis of a doctor, chiropractor, physical therapist or athletic trainer and do what they tell you. Pain is most often a leading indicator of a potentially chronic injury that you’ll have if you try to “push through the pain.”
INJURY: This is the definite, diagnosed “I know exactly how it happened” thing we all hope to avoid. Maybe you crashed and broke a collar bone, some ribs or had a concussion. Maybe you pushed through the pain of a ligament or tendon sprain and now you need surgery for a tear. Whatever caused your injury, you’ll be requiring medical attention. In 2002 I had some knee pain and swelling. I continued to race through and eventually the problem didn’t respond to ice, compression and elevation. Turned out I had a meniscus tear that was exacerbated by the repetitive motion of pedaling. It was a season ender that required surgery.
The first orthopedic surgeon I saw told me I had the knee of an 80 year old man said I must quit cycling and take up swimming, but that I’d never be able to race again. I was devastated and sought a second opinion. The second orthopedic surgeon had been the team ortho for the US Air Force Academy and worked with the US Olympic Ski team in Colorado Springs. He’d seen knees similar and much worse than mine. He assured me that I’d be fine, but the recovery was slow and had to be done right in order to avoid re-injury. The full rehab took nearly 3 months before I was cleared to ride my bike again. Even though I was going crazy with the inactivity I did what the therapist and doctor told me to do and 2003 turned out to be one of the best seasons of my life with a big win on the NRC race circuit and a silver medal at Masters Nationals in the time trial.
As athletes, we’ll all deal with soreness and pain from time to time. Pay attention to what is causing the soreness or pain and treat it accordingly. If you’re injured, give yourself time to fully recover before forcing your way back into full fledged competition. Otherwise you’re risking pushing yourself into the category of being “chronically injured” which isn’t a season ending problem, it’s a career ending problem.