What's The Damage? (Preview)

Unless you’re a very lucky or very resilient triathlete you will suffer an injury at some point. The question is how to deal with it when it happens.


Posted: 9 August 2010
by Roy Stevenson

Hands up if you've never been injured. If your hand is in the air, you're in the lucky minority of triathletes who have never had to take time off training to recover from a sore calf, aching shoulder or throbbing knee.

Triathlon is a great sport for total-body conditioning, but it also offers many opportunities for injury if you're not careful - and even if you are. Club-level triathletes have a 56 per cent chance of being injured in any given five-year period and many ignore a problem, hoping it
will magically heal on its own, rather than doing the sensible thing by treating the injury immediately.

Treat yourself

If you become injured, your top priority should be to start treating the injury straight away. This is where many triathletes make the aforementioned mistake of resting and hoping the injury will heal by itself. The injury does usually improve with complete rest, but this can lead to a buildup of scar tissue in the affected area. This can cause problems later - research suggests there is a 50 per cent chance an injury will recur, which suggests athletes in general are not treating their injuries properly.

Next time you become injured, or even feel a twinge, act quickly. Start off by resting - and yes, that does mean not racing. Ice the area for 10-15 minutes at least twice a day (and preferably several times) for the first three days. Never apply heat to a new injury. Firmly compress the area using a bandage or compression material. If you're using
a bandage, make sure it isn't so tight that it cuts off blood flow. When you're sleeping elevate the injured area above the level of your heart. Reducing the blood flow to the area minimises inflammation and swelling. Gently stretch the affected area if there is no pain.

Change is good

If the injury is not severe enough to stop you running or cycling, now's the time
to modify your training. By taking the following steps, there's a good chance
your injury will improve within a week or two, so you can gradually start to increase your training again.

A key element of this strategy is developing a sense of your limits by listening closely to what your body is telling you. If, for example, you have a running injury that becomes sore around three miles into a run, limit your running to two miles. You alone can determine how much running is safe for you, but it's a good idea to cut back on the frequency, duration and intensity of your training. That might mean restricting your running or cycling to every second day (or cutting your frequency of exercise days per week by 50 per cent), and avoiding running on consecutive days.

Warm up very slowly for 10 minutes and cut back the pace you train at by one to two minutes per mile. Changing the surface you run on could also help. Avoid gradients and run on soft, level surfaces like grass or trails.

Always ice the affected area after you run or cycle. Gently stretch the affected area with one or two stretches. Hold each stretch for 15 to 30 seconds. And check your running shoes for excessive wear. Even the newest, most expensive shoes will not prevent an injury but old, worn shoes will make one more likely.

A good indicator that you are recovering from your injury is how the affected area feels in the morning. If there is no pain when you wake up or during your training you can slowly rebuild your training to pre-injury levels. However, if the injured area is stiff and sore and you're still hobbling around in the mornings, it may be time to take the next - painful - step.

Get a second opinion

If pain and swelling have not receded after a week of self-treatment and training modifications, you should visit your GP, who will diagnose your injury and advise you on whether you need to stop training and start taking anti-inflammatory medications. Your physician may also decide you need physiotherapy treatment.

Physiotherapists will have seen your injury before so listen closely to the advice and when they prescribe home exercises, do them. Your physio may also use ice, heat, electric stimulation, ultrasound, massage and mobilisation exercises to hasten your recovery.


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