Every sports fan can remember the legendary performances of those who battled through painful injuries and become heroes to their beloved teams. From Kirk Gibson in the 1988 World Series to Curt Schilling with his bloody sock in the 2004 ALCS; there are plenty of examples out there.   However, the days of hearing, “suck it up” and “push through it” from coaches and spectators are slowly decreasing as we begin to understand sports injuries and the long term effects they can cause if pain is ignored.

But, like most things that require change, this is often met with resistance from players or even the parents of young athletes. The stigma that comes with not playing through an injury is the notion that the athlete has not laid everything on the line for the team. Others might see the athlete as “soft” if not playing through an injury similar to one that others have played through in the past.

So what exactly happens when you play through a sports injury? Well, you leave yourself susceptible to other injuries or an even bigger issue than your previous injury. Fighting through the warrior culture may be a tough thing to ask of an athlete, but it is important that one also be a defender of their own health.  The loyalty to teammates we have can sometimes deceive us into thinking that this is more important than our overall well-being.

Playing through pain puts all athletes of all ages at risk for more severe injuries. Below are 3 reasons examples of why it is important to consult an Orthopedic or Sports Medicine specialist at the first onset of pain:

Shoulder Injuries

Rotator Cuff Tears are one of the more common injuries for athletes who repetitively use an overhand throwing motion. For 50% of athletes with full thickness rotator cuff tears (complete tear of the tendon from the bone) physical therapy can alleviate pain as well as help regain shoulder strength and stability. However, for the other 50%, these will become significantly larger in less than 18 months time.  Furthermore, 25% will develop atrophy of the muscle in the same amount of time, which means the muscle mass shrinks and turns to fat and scar, which is irreversible, even when the tendon is repaired.

What to do: Younger patients with a full thickness rotator cuff tear need to be evaluated by a shoulder surgeon to discuss surgical repair. This typically is an arthroscopic surgery with success rates of over 90%.

Knee Injuries

Patellar tendonitis, or jumpers knee, is a common injury in athletes and occurs as a result of repetitive jumping as well as from weight lifting. Patellar tendonitis is microtears that occurs in the patella tendon, usually just below the kneecap. The pain from this condition is often worse with squatting and jumping and can be disabling for an athlete.

What to do: If certain exercises or motions tend to aggravate the condition, activity modification is often recommended. A physical therapy protocol that includes eccentric quadriceps strengthening can be successful in up to 90% of patients.   For those who fail conservative treatments, injection with platelet rich plasma as well as surgery may be discussed.

Ankle Injury

Achilles tendonitis is another common injury among athletes and is very similar to patellar tendonitis as it can be caused from repetitive jumping as well as overuse with exercise. This injury occurs when the tendon is inflamed or irritated and the pain can progress from intermittent aches to persistent and chronic pain.

What to do: If certain exercises or motions tend to aggravate the condition, activity modification is often recommended.    Rest in a cast or walking boot might also help this resolve this as well. For patients who have failed a prolonged course of treatment surgery may be indicated.

The physicians at Total Orthopedics and Sports Medicine focus on both the surgical and non-surgical treatment of Long Island athletes with bone and joint injuries.  Dr. Charles Ruotolo, President of Total Orthopedics and Sports Medicine, regularly conducts injury prevention seminars for athletic trainers and coaches in an effort to help players avoid injury.

Fortunately, many patients can be treated non-surgically with a combination of conservative modalities coordinated by the Total Orthopedics and Sports Medicine Team. If surgery is necessary, the practice uses a multidisciplinary approach to create a treatment plan that focuses on the patient’s lifestyle and activities and helps them get back to those activities quickly and effectively.  For the convenience of our patients, Total Orthopedics and Sports Medicine has locations throughout Long Island.