Pain occurs with potential or actual tissue damage, so it is a warning sign. There are different types of pain, which relate to the duration rather than intensity of pain felt.
This type of happens immediately after an injury. If there has been tissue damage there is likely to be some swelling due to the inflammatory process. The degree of swelling and ability of the injured limb to function can be a good indicator of the level of injury. A significant injury e.g. a fracture or severe ligament injury will normally prevent you from continuing to play. Acute pain is short lived lasting for a few hours up to several weeks depending on the degree of damage.
This is a more persistent pain that may not have a specific injury. The most common example in sports is Tendinopathy. The symptoms are mild initially and will gradually worsen without rest. This is because the healing process is faulty, so it is unlikely to resolve without specific sports therapy treatment. Chronic pain may also be an indicator of more serious damage, or it may occur because of a problem with the pain mechanism. The pain process itself can sometimes be self-fulfilling when the initial injury has resolved. This is because pain is a complex interaction between physical, psychological and environmental factors.
The golden rule if you do experience pain from training is that it should not last longer than the time you spent exercising and you should not develop latent pain (i.e. pain a while after you have finished exercising). If you have any concerns about whether to continue training then contact the Optimal Sports Therapy Centre for advice.
The application of something as simple as an ice pack or a hot water bottle can help reduce the impact of an injury very quickly.
But when should you apply it?
Ice packs and cold compresses
The ideal time to apply ice or cold to an injury is immediately after an injury. Any injury that has caused pain or bruising is likely to result in inflammation developing. Something that is inflamed will be painful, it may look red or bruised and will be swollen. This is a sign of tissue injury and is a normal response of the body to help with healing.
An ice pack should be used intermittently on the affected area for the following 72 hours. The effect of the cold is to limit the blood flow into the area and so slow down the rate of cell death in the injured tissue. This will then reduce how severe the inflammatory reaction is.
Crushed ice cubes or a bag of frozen peas are ideal because then can be moulded around the painful part. Always wrap this in a damp tea towel and then apply it to the part for 10-15 minutes. Never put the ice straight on the skin as this may cause an ice burn. Then wrap a dry towel around the body part and elevate it.
Hot water bottles and heat pads
Heat is best applied to problems that involve feelings of stiffness or tightness. Heat should not be applied to an acute injury because it may increase blood flow to the area and so exacerbate the inflammation.
The effect of heat is to relax the muscles around the area and so allow more movement.
Heat pads should be left in place for 15-20 minutes and it is a good idea to then stretch the part if you have been shown how to do this. For bad backs or necks it is better to avoid lying in a hot bath for long periods as this is a poor posture to adapt, try lying on your back with a heat pad under your neck or lower back.