Injuries that plague sprinters

The sprinter needs to produce maximum power within the shortest time. Due to this, he is more vulnerable to injuries. By Dr. R. Gandhi.

Sprinting is a bio-motor quality defined as the ability to perform specific movement in the shortest possible time. The sprinter needs to produce maximum power within the shortest time. Due to this, he is more vulnerable to injuries.

Sprinters often suffer the following injuries:

1. Hamstring pull/strain; 2. Quadriceps strain; 3. Achilles Tendonitis; 4. Lower back pain; 5. Shoulder sprain; 6. Stress fracture.

1. Hamstring pull/ strain: A pulled hamstring is a tear in one or more of the hamstring muscles and often manifests itself through a sharp pain at the back of the leg during exercise or sprinting. The rehabilitation stint starts within the first 48 hours post-injury and includes cold therapy (rest, ice, compress and elevate) technique. A compression bandage is used to minimise intra-muscular bleeding. The early mobilisation of the injured lower limb is vital for correct rehabilitation. Gentle static stretches are used initially before moving onto more dynamic sports specific stretches.

Gradually the load on the muscle is increased. But it has to be remembered that these stretches are done when the injured athlete is pain-free. Treatment at times may also involve ultrasound and other forms of electrotherapy and in extreme cases, surgery might be needed to repair the damage.

2. Quadriceps strain: It is an injury that is caused by a tear in one of the quadriceps in front of the thigh. The symptoms include a sudden sharp pain when running, jumping or kicking and the athlete may notice swelling or even mild bruising.

The rehabilitation starts with RICE (rest, ice, compression, elevation) for the first 24 hours. Cold therapy has to be applied every two to three hours, followed by a compression bandage until the pain subsides. A mandatory period of 72 hours rest is a must before commencing light training. Sports massage techniques can be used to speed up recovery. Treatment may also include ultrasound and electrical stimulation.

3. Achilles Tendonitis: The Achilles tendon is located at the back of the ankle and provides power in the push-off phase of walking and running. On investigation of Tendonitis, it is usually found that there is degenerated tissue with a loss of normal fibre structure. The symptoms start with a pain at the back of the ankle just above the heel bone.

The rehabilitation starts with rest and cold therapy. Later a heel pad is worn to reduce the strain but this is a temporary measure. Often anti-inflammatory medication is prescribed by doctors. Other treatment avenues include ultrasound, massage. Surgery again is the last resort.

4. Lower back pain: This is a common niggle and is often felt as an aching pain that may be constant or intermittent. At times there may be pain in the buttocks or hamstrings as well.

The rehabilitation starts with identifying causes that include: Hyperlordosis (increased curve in the lower back), Scoliosis (an S-shaped spine), poor posture, pelvic instability, bad lifting techniques and sleeping in a bed that offers poor support. The initial attempts are to reduce pain and inflammation through ice, electrotherapy and rest. Slowly there is restoration of full range of movement and gradual increase of flexibility and strength.

5. Shoulder sprain: Damage to the shoulder ligaments which support the glenohumeral (shoulder) joint causes this sprain. The rehabilitation programme starts with resting the arm and a sling is often used to restrict movement. Ice is often applied to ease pain and swelling. At times, ultrasound or laser treatment is also used.

6. Stress fracture: Prolonged overuse can cause a stress fracture of any bone in our body. The symptoms include a dull ache and pain when a bending force is applied on the injured part. X-rays may not show the injury but a bone scan or MRI will give an accurate diagnosis.

The rehabilitation starts with six weeks rest in a plaster cast, followed by a gradual strengthening phase. In some instances biomechanical correction can also be done.

(The author is a national coach with the senior national athletic camp at the SAI Southern Centre, Bangalore.)