Knowing the right times to push through pain or to let the body heal
With sports season in full swing, many athletes begin to feel the aches and pains of competition adding up. The decision to play with nagging injuries can become confusing when attempting to balance multiple different factors: parents, coaches, teammates, and even potential scholarship offers.
When is it OK to “gut it out,” and when do you need to take a break to prevent more serious injury? For many of the athletes that I see, I like to break down the consequences of playing through pain into two main categories: having no/low risk of structural damage but the possibility of pain lasting longer, versus having a moderate/high risk of structural damage with the possibility of long-term injury.
Patients who generally fit into the first category will share many similar characteristics. These include not remembering a discrete traumatic injury, generally having dull discomfort as opposed to sharp/stabbing feelings, having pain that lessens as they progress through their sporting activity (i.e. as one warms up) rather than pain which persists in the heat of the game, and having a diffuse area of pain rather than a specific location.
Although exceptions to these rules exist, the golden question when deciding whether someone is healthy enough to play is, “Do you need to change the way you normally run/jump/throw in order to make it through the game and/or are you compensating with other parts of your body in order to take pressure off the injured area?” If the answer is yes, more harm than good can arise from playing.
Remember that athletics are PART of a healthy lifestyle not something that should compromise it!
Dr. Nirav K. Pandya is a pediatric orthopedic surgeon specializing in pediatric sports injuries at USF Benioff Children’s Hospital in Oakland. He sees patients and operates in Oakland and our facility at Walnut Creek.