Whether you sprain your ankle or develop tennis elbow, having a sports injury can be debilitating, particularly if it stops you doing what you love. But with the right support and treatment, you can recover and get back out there.
In this article, Dr Krishnan Rasaratnam explains how sports doctors can help. He also shines a light on one area he is particularly passionate about – raising awareness of the dangers of concussion and the need to protect our kids in community sport.
What should you do if you suffer a sports injury?
With any sort of musculoskeletal injury like a bruise, sprained ankle, ligament or tendon, the principles are:
The aim is to minimise any further damage. That means avoiding aggravating activities, as well as massage or alcohol until you know what you’re dealing with.
If you follow those basic principles of POLICE, generally things should settle down after a few days.
When should you see a sports doctor?
Minor injuries should be sore for a few days, then start to improve. If symptoms persist, it’s a good idea to see either a physio, GP or sports doctor for further advice.
What do sports doctors do?
The role of a sports doctor is threefold. We can assist with:
- Diagnostic clarification. Let’s say you’ve seen your regular GP or physio and your sports injury isn’t improving. That’s when you’d see us for a more appropriate treatment plan.
- Return to activity. If you’re really keen to get back to your usual physical activity as soon as possible, you may see a sports doctor. We can streamline your recovery and make sure we’re looking at it from all angles.
- Comprehensive treatment plans. If you know what the injury is and you’ve tried all the basic avenues, we can suggest other treatments you could try.
Who is sports medicine for?
It’s certainly not just for athletes. With sports medicine, the concept is to make you as fit and well as possible and get you back doing the activity you enjoy – whatever that may be.
Patients range from elderly individuals wanting to play lawn bowls again or to be able to walk to the shops without pain, to 40-to 50-year-olds who likes to go to the gym or cycle on the weekends, and even 25 year olds who love to hike.
Sports medicine is for anyone who does any sort of physical activity and whatever their injury is, it’s limiting them from doing what they want to do.
What do you love about your work?
I personally love getting tangible results. It’s very important to look after somebody’s blood pressure and cholesterol, but when you see someone who can’t do what they want to and then they get back to doing that, it’s a very tangible result.
I try to focus on my patients’ quality of life. I want my patients to be able to enjoy life, to be able to experience and do things richly and fully. I find that tremendously satisfying
Concussion has been in the news a lot recently. What exactly is a concussion?
A concussion is a type of brain injury with a temporary impairment of brain function,
where you’ve had some trauma that’s rattled your brain, in a sense. That doesn’t have to come from a head knock only.
Some people might get it from whiplash or from a hit to the chest where the head moves to the side as well (even though the head hasn’t knocked anything).
Any sort of trauma that sends a force to the brain can result in a concussion.
What are the concerns with concussion?
A concussion itself isn’t a structural change. It’s not like you’ve caused major bruising or bleeding in the brain, but that shock affects how that section of the brain sends its usual signals.
That often presents as things like headaches, dizziness, an aversion to bright lights or loud noises, feeling off-balance, difficulty concentrating or sleeping. It can present in any number of ways after that trauma.
What’s important to remember is that it can actually present a couple of days afterwards. You may be feeling a bit off and a bit less like your usual self, and that can be a marker of a mild concussion.
Who’s at risk?
Anyone who gets a traumatic blow that may transmit a shock to the head. Most commonly, that would be people who are involved in competitive sport or contact sport where you might take a heavy knock.
It could also be people who are at risk in their line of work. Let’s say you’re working on a building site and you forget to use your hard hat and then you accidentally hit your head on a pole or you’re struck by a piece of wood. That could result in concussion.
Anyone in the community can experience concussion. Say you have a fall and you strike the back of your head – that can be enough to cause concussion.
What if I wear protective equipment while playing contact sport?
There hasn’t been much evidence to say that things like mouth guards prevent concussion. They do protect against other head and face injuries, but they don’t necessarily reduce your risk of concussion.
Same thing with helmets. In the NFL they’ve found that maybe for the first knock, helmets reduce the trauma. But if that helmet has lost its structural integrity, there’s not much to say that it will protect you from concussions in the future.
What to do if you suspect you have concussion
The most important thing is recognition. A lot of people try to downplay concussion. They try to carry on with life.
If you rolled your ankle, your ankle would swell up and you probably couldn’t push on with your day-to-day life. That’s going to give you a driver to go see your doctor.
With head injuries, maybe you’re feeling a little bit nauseous. Maybe you’re feeling a little off-balance, but you might try to push on with your day-to-day life. A lot of people underplay head injuries.
However, if you’re still feeling a bit off after a head knock, even if it’s the next day, it’s always best to be assessed by your doctor for concussion as well as other head injuries, because they can be quite serious.
How do you manage concussion?
The AFL and the College of Sports Medicine have come up with a rehab plan. It’s rehab in the sense that just like with any injury, you try to reduce your load and slowly build up to what you can do.
If we use the swollen ankle analogy, you have to let it settle down first and then slowly build up.
With a concussion, you not only need physical rest, but cognitive rest. It’s important to do this under a level of supervision, because it can be quite difficult for the average person to know when to step up and when to dial back.
Community sport awareness
The big area that I want to highlight is in community sport, especially with our kids. We need to be extra careful about protecting them.
Having greater awareness among the athletes themselves is vital, but also among coaches, parents and volunteers.
If in doubt, sit them out. If someone’s taken a head knock and they’re not quite right, always err on the safer side and pull them out.
Like to make an appointment?
Have a sports injury that’s bothering you? Book in with Dr Rasaratnam or one of our other sports doctors.
Call (03) 9598 6244 or book online.
About Dr Rasaratnam
Dr Rasaratnam is a General Practitioner at Bluff Road Medical Centre. He is currently doing a Masters of Sports Medicine.
Dr Rasaratnam has worked with the orthopaedic team at Eastern Health and a number of sporting teams in various codes, including a VFL team, AFL under 18s developmental team, some A-League soccer work and with the NRL under 21s.
Concussion Recognition Tool 5 (CRT5) – a list of symptoms to look out for.