Unfortunately, with the sport of hockey and several other contact sports, there is always the chance that an injury will occur. When this does happen, how do you know if you should attend therapy or not. While practicing Athletic Therapy for several years now, I often see athletes who will wait several weeks before deciding to seek treatment for a particular problem. This can actually progress to more problems in the future. What happens to a ligament or muscle when it is sprained/strained? When this first occurs, the body will immediately begin an inflammation process, which includes an increase in redness, swelling, pain and heat. The tissue cells around the area may possibly die due to a lack of oxygen from the blood. This death of the cells can cause other digestive cells (phagocytes) to spill over and start killing the healthy tissue. This is why it is extremely important to follow the P.I.E.R. (Pressure, Ice, Elevation and Rest) or R.I.C.E. (Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation) principles. If these principles are followed, the chances of significant swelling and pain are decreased dramatically.
Another problem that occurs if an injury is not treated immediately, is the chance of scar tissue forming over the injury site and impairing movement. This scar tissue will form if an injury is not properly rehabilitated with exercises and the appropriate modalities. Often, after someone has sprained an ankle for example, they will think that the injury will heal itself. This unfortunately does not usually happen. The athlete should understand that the ankle needs to be properly stretched and strengthened. If the athlete does not strengthen the joint, the likelihood of further sprains may occur. While attending therapy for an injury, the athlete will be questioned regarding the exact nature of the injury. This is extremely important to the therapist, as they can usually determine from the history of the accident, what the exact problem is. Once the assessment is completed and injury is explained to the athlete. The rehabilitation process can begin. Rehab may consist of a varied amount of modalities (therapy machines), hands-on–therapy, stretches, strengthening and usually ice or heat. All these various amounts of rehabilitation tools can significantly reduce the athlete’s pain and return them to their sport much quicker. In closing, it is of my opinion that an athlete should not wait to seek treatment (maximum 2-3 days following injury), and get the best care immediately. This has been proven to significantly reduce the time in pain and return them to their sport much quicker.