Whether you’ve been dealing with an old sports injury or are nursing a more recent pain, be sure to understand all the options, surgical and non-surgical, that can help return you to fighting form.
Evan Argintar, MD, a member of MedStar Orthopaedic Institute and assistant director of Sports Medicine at MedStar Washington Hospital Center, sees athletes and non-athletes alike, for issues ranging from rotator cuff inflammation to sprained ankles and everything in between. One of the most common injuries is patellofemoral pain syndrome, a broad term to describe pain in the front of the knee and around the kneecap.
Typically, Dr. Argintar’s first recommendation is to practice RICE, which stands for rest, ice, compression and elevation. RICE minimizes the painful consequences of swelling but allows the body to continue healing.
“Inflammation is a good thing. It brings blood to the site of injury and blood has growth factors and can help stimulate healing,” says Dr. Argintar. “The problem is the stiffness caused by the swelling, so it’s a bit of a balancing act. You want to maximize the good stuff coming with the blood and minimize the bad side effects.”
Dr. Argintar also recommends that anyone with an injury be evaluated by a specialist as soon as possible. Though some patients may be tempted to grit their teeth and ignore the injury, pain is your body’s mechanism of telling you that something is wrong.
“Ignoring the pain creates more problems that will ultimately take longer heal,” says Dr. Argintar.
A specialist can determine the origin of injury and determine a regimen to help the body heal. Many patients use a combination of activity modification, physical therapy and sometimes an anti-inflammatory steroid injection. A steroid injection, or cortisone injection, is a direct injection of the medicine that decreases inflammation. Some patients receive a one-time injection, while others receive a shot every few months to combat inflammation and avoid surgery.
If surgery is required, there are minimally invasive options that allow for quick recoveries and continued mobility. “Fortunately, I operate on a very small minority of my patients,” he says. “Surgery is always the last option.”
Dr. Argintar’s advice for avoiding injury all together?
“The best way to prevent injuries is to have a strong defense.”
Many injuries are caused or exacerbated by a simple lack of flexibility. Exercise, stretching, and strengthening core muscle groups are crucial to preventing future injuries. Under a physician’s care and with a dedicated exercise routine, many patients are able to return to playing sports and enjoying pain-free physical activities.