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Are you fit enough to deal with minor sports injuries?

Self-care is the best care. Sure, we all need professional medical help from time to time, but it’s also true that the more you know about your body and how best to take care of it, the happier and healthier your life can be.

Let’s review the basics of self-care when it comes to handling simple sports injuries, the bumps, bruises, sprains and strains that are bound to occur when you enjoy an active, energizing lifestyle. Read this, and next time you’ll know just what to do.

Don’t panic. If you suffer a sports injury - falling off your bike, running into a pothole, dropping a bowling ball on your toe - you need to breathe deeply, calm yourself and assess the situation. Is this something minor you can handle yourself? Or is this something that needs fast and expert medical attention? Knowing the basics of self-care will help give you the confidence you need to evaluate your own injury.

Bone up on what injuries have in common. The way we get injured may vary, but most sports injuries have some things in common.

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In sprains and strains, something tears, the torn tissue bleeds and swelling occurs. Sprains are injuries to ligaments, the structures that hold bones together. Strains are injuries to muscles and tendons. Tendons connect muscles to bones.

In bumps and bruises, blood vessels are ruptured, blood leaks into the tissue and swelling occurs. Jammed fingers from catching a ball on the end of your finger or jammed toes from stubbing your toe on the ground produce bleeding into a joint followed by more swelling.

In scrapes and cuts, tissue is damaged and bleeding occurs, followed by swelling.

In all cases, the common denominator is bleeding - internal or external - and swelling, with the end result being pain. Ouch, injuries hurt.

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Use ice, not heat. You fall down, you scrape your arm or you twist your knee, and you know that pain and swelling are on the way. What to do? Heat or ice? Ice is the answer.

Remember that forever. Ice, not heat. Why? Heat will increase bleeding and swelling in the area, and ice will reduce it.

So get ice on your injury as fast as you can: cubes wrapped in plastic, a bag of frozen peas, one of those instant ice packs for emergency first aid. Keep icing the area where you’ve been injured - leaving the pack on for about 20 minutes at a time - until the swelling and pain are gone. If the pain and swelling continue in spite of using ice, that’s a good indication you need to see a medical professional.

Remember RICE. This stands for the basics of self-care: rest, ice, compression, elevation. Memorize it. Rest is important. You can’t run on a badly sprained ankle and expect quick recovery. Healing takes the time it takes. Ice we’ve already discussed. Compression means an elastic bandage wrapped around the injured area, not too tight but not too loose, to put the area to rest and help control the swelling. And the fourth rule, elevation, means that you should raise the injured area above the level of your heart so that gravity will help drain away the swelling.

Treat cuts with care. Cuts, nicks and scrapes require simple, quick care. The danger in these injuries is infection. If your cut is very deep, you’ll need to have it stitched up by a medical expert, but most cuts are minor and can be cared for yourself.

Your first job is to cleanse the area. You don’t need anything fancy. Soap and water is the best cleanser. Hydrogen peroxide looks good and fizzes, but it’s not better than soap and water. Neither are those off-the-shelf remedies. Soap breaks down the fat in the injured area, and it’s this fat that holds the dirt and bacteria in the wound. Then use plenty of clean water to wash the dirt and bacteria away.

After cleaning your wound, your ointments create that sort of environment. They also interfere with nature’s ability to produce scabs that seal wounds.

Stay on the case. Be mindful of your own recovery. If it’s a wound, watch it and make sure healing is happening. If it stays nasty and the pain gets worse, get help. Ditto for sprains and strains. When you are ready to return to action, be sure you ease back into full activity or you can easily re-injure yourself. Take some time to rehab the injured area, regaining your strength and flexibility.

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Remember: Self-care is the best care when it comes to treating your own minor sports injuries. Remember RICE, but don’t hesitate to get professional help if you sense a more serious injury.

According to a scary and interesting article in the September issue of the Nutrition Action Healthletter, an estimated 211,000 American women will be diagnosed with breast cancer this year. The disease will kill 40,000. Lung cancer kills more women - an estimated 73,000 - but breast cancer creates more fear and confusion.

So what can you do to lower your risk of getting breast cancer? Plenty, according to the experts in the article. Women age 40 or older should get a mammogram every year and do monthly self-exams. Avoid weight gain, especially after menopause. Limit your alcohol consumption to one drink a day.

And what about diet? The data isn’t conclusive yet in terms of breast cancer, but a diet high in fruits and vegetables and low in fat has many advantages and can certainly reduce a person’s risk for heart disease, diabetes and other cancers.

My advice: You don’t need to wait for more studies, more research. Start eating healthy now. Reduce fat intake by eating more fruits and veggies, not by loading up on low-fat processed foods, like cakes, cookies, white bread. Eat

real food.

And what about exercise? Yes, yes and yes. Though the link between physical exercise and breast-cancer prevention isn’t as strong as it is with diabetes, heart disease and colon cancer, exercise does drive down the risk somewhat, and it has proven very helpful to women who already have breast cancer.

“Women who are physically active have lower hormone levels, and hormones stimulate breast cancer growth,” said Harvard Medical researcher Michelle Holmes. She saw the maximum benefit in women who walked the equivalent of three to five hours a week, going at a moderate pace of two to three miles an hour.

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Physical activity may also improve the quality of life and self-image of women with breast cancer, says Holmes, and it helps women avoid weight gain.

So do it. Eat smart, exercise more. And another good idea is to get your own $10 annual subscription to the

Nutrition Action Healthletter.

For more information, e-mail them at circ@cspinet.org or write to the Center for Science in the Public Interest at 1875 Conn. Ave, N.W., Suite 300, Washington, D.C., 20009.

Write Marilynn Preston in care of

The Light, 565 Pearl St., Suite 300,

La Jolla, 92037