What Are the Warning Signs & Symptoms of an Injury?

Do You Know the Signs of an Injury?

Most fitness-related injuries have certain warning signs and symptoms that go beyond those that accompany daily wear and tear. It is, therefore, important for any active individual to always be evaluating their aches and pains, looking for symptoms that indicate more serious problems.

Generally, symptoms include bruising or discoloration, pain or discomfort, skin redness, and/or swelling.

Those who ignore the warning signs could be opeing themselves up to the potential for muscle and joint damage that they could otherwise have avoided (Some injuries are evident, while others creep up slowly and progressively get worse).

Whilst a healthier lifestyle may mean faster recovery from any ‘bumps’, fitter individuals may be more comfortable with the (transient exercise) pain associated with higher intensity exericse, and therefore more likely to ignore the warning signs of a minor/serious injury.

It may be tempting to brush off minor symptoms but, as outlined below, there are some warning signs you should never neglect.

  1. Redness & Heat:
    1. Redness and heat are caused by increased blood flow and can be one of the very first signs (besides acute pain) of an injury.
  2. Numbness/Tingling:
    1. One of the most serious signs that you may have sustained a serious injury is numbness or a tingling sensation.
    2. This may indicate nerve compression or damage to a nerve and therefore must always be examined by a medical professional.
  3. Swelling:
    1. Swelling is the result of the increased movement of fluid and white blood cells into the area of inflammation; The release of chemicals and the compression of nerves in the area of injury cause pain.
    2. Most injuries are accompanied by swelling, so paying attention to severity and duration is often the only way to tell the difference between minor and serious injury.
    3. Severe swelling is often accompanied by pain and a lack of motion in the joints.
    4. Swelling is sometimes visually obvious, but is not always easy to spot; You may occasionally feel swelling or tightness without any obvious signs (e.g. swelling in a joint).
    5. Often, swelling within a joint will cause pain, stiffness, tightness or a reduced range of motion.
    6. If an injury with a joint has caused some structural damage, there may be an associated clicking or grinding feeling, or perhaps a feeling of the joint being locked or jammed intermittently.
    7. When this lasts for more than a few hours, or does not react to ice, it is time to see your medical professional.
  4. Tenderness/Soreness:
    1. If you can elicit pain at a specific point by pressing your finger into the area, you may have a serious injury, especially if this tenderness is in the area of a bone, muscle or joint.
    2. One of the easiest ways to test for tenderness is to press the same place on both sides of your body – if you do not feel pain on the non-injured side, you have a pretty clear signal that something could be wrong.
    3. However, without bruising, it may be difficult to diagnose whether the injury is related to your bone, muscle or joint, so you should see advice from your medical professional.
  5. Joint Pain:
    1. We may sometimes feel joint pain in our regular activities of daily living (ADL), such as climbing the stairs or squatting (sitting down in your chair or standing up).
    2. This could be a sign that something is structurally damaged or injured within the joint.
    3. As joint discomfort is common in both serious and minor injuries, this type of pain must always be carefully monitored.
    4. Throbbing or sharp pains that accompany articulation (i.e. movement), particularly of locomotive joints (e.g. knees or ankles), lasting more than 48 hours will require examination from a medical professional.
    5. However, (normally) joint pains that are not significant should resolve within 6 weeks.
    6. If your pain persists beyond that, it may be a sign that something is wrong.
    7. Joints that are superficial and not covered by thick muscles (e.g. the knee, ankle, elbow, and wrist) tend to exhibit point tenderness (meaning pain when pressed in a specific area).
  6. Reduced Range of Motion (ROM):
    1. Even if the swelling of your joint injury is not obvious, suffering from a reduced ROM can be a telling sign.
    2. The best way to check this is to compare the injured joint to the other.
    3. If the injured joint moves significantly less or with significantly more pain, it is time to see your medical professional.
  7. Comparative Weakness:
    1. When a joint or muscle group is compromised by a serious injury, there is often a significant weakness in that area.
    2. When you feel weak while moving a limb or muscle – especially if this occurs after pain – it could mean that a muscle or tendon could have torn, resulting in the lack of strength in that area of your body.
    3. Comparative tests are a useful method to provide an initial self-diagnosis as to how bad the injury may be.
    4. Lifting light weights with both the injured and uninjured side and comparing the results can be beneficial, as can shifting your weight from one leg to the other to test joint strength.
  8. Instability:
    1. If your joint feels unstable, and this instability persists or develops after an initial painful episode, this could indicate a serious ligament injury.
    2. If you feel that your joint (e.g. your knee) is unstable when doing certain activities, like running or climbing the stairs, seek advice from your medical professional to ascertain if there is indeed a torn ligament.

While the ability to identify any of these symptoms is crucial to any individual engaged in physical activity/exercise, even more important is being aware of how to prevent the injury in the first place.

With this in mind, there are a number of ways to approach injury prevention, many of which simply rely on the individual being more conservative in their efforts (e.g. reducing intensity or duration) and more aware of how their body is reacting to the new/different physical demands placed upon it.

  1. Consult your Medical Professional First: A good physical evaluation will help you spot potential problems before they occur/become serious. If you have had injuries in the past, be sure to pay careful attention to them and use braces, wraps and other therapy devices (as appropriate) to minimise the chance of further or re-injury.
  2. Be In Shape First: Get in shape (foundational fitness) before you start a new fitness regimen. Know what muscle groups and joints will be most used in the process and spend as much time as possible preparing them for the new demands you will be putting on them.
  3. Warm-Up and Hydrate: Even though it has been a golden rule of exercise for decades, many fitness enthusiasts still do not approrpirately warm-up before they start their training session. Individual’s should be using a progressive warm-up to prepare the mind and body for the coming exercise, which can aid in reducing the incidence of injury. Further, remember to re/hydrate before, during, and after the training activity.
  4. The 10% Rule: It is often hard to decide how often should you perform an activity. For example, what should be the maximum weight to carry and the duration for which one can continue to perform an exercise? The 10% rule states that you should never increase any exercise factor more than, on average, 10% per week. This may not seem like a lot for serious fitness enthusiasts, but it means a great difference to your body’s ability to properly recover.

Treat your fitness like a commodity and you are less likely to waste it. When it comes to taking care of your body, especially for those who are fitness fanatics, due attention should be paid to anything that sends a warning signal – be it a continuous pain or constant weakness.

If you have an injury, the goal is to prevent further damage. Do not let the problem continue or worsen, as you will reduce the likelihood of returning to normal or near normal function.

If you can identify the cause of the injury (e.g. improper training methods or poorly-fitting equipment), you can begin to remedy the situation. If you have any of the above warning signs, it is advisable to limit your physical/exercise activity and seek treatment as soon as possible.

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