Sports injuries occur in many forms and can be either acute or chronic. An acute injury occurs with a sudden traumatic injury, such as an ankle sprain. Whereas a chronic injury occurs over time due to repetitive wear and tear. These are often referred to as overuse injuries and cause micro-trauma to the involved tissue. The treatment of sports injuries will differ based on which type of injury has occurred.
When evaluating an acute injury, understanding the mechanism of injury, or how the injury occurred is a crucial piece of information. This helps your therapist identify exactly what tissues were involved and to what extent they were damaged. Different tissues have different healing capabilities and timelines, so the extent and type of damage directly influence the treatment. With most acute injuries, inflammation and swelling are the first things that need to be addressed. When looking at a sprained ankle, reducing swelling allows for restoration of normal Range of Motion and the progression to strengthening to improve the stability of the joint. A physical therapist will continuously evaluate you and your movement patterns during the progression of an acute injury to establish potential movement faults, muscle weakness, or flexibility deficits that may have precipitated or increase the risk of reinjury.
Chronic overuse injuries differ in both mechanism and tissue damage. As opposed to sudden or traumatic injuries, chronic overuse injuries generally happen from the accumulation of micro-trauma. This is generally defined as the small and progressive wear and tear that happens to a bone, ligament, tendon, or muscle that eventually leads to inflammation, pain, and decreased function. For example, patellar tendinopathy (commonly known as patellar tendonitis) can occur from repetitive microtrauma occurring at the base of the knee cap over a long training season preparing for a marathon. Chronic overuse injuries almost always come back to faulty movement patterns that cause excessive or abnormal stresses to a certain tissue. For example, hip weakness can cause you to improperly load your knee during running in such a way that applies too much stress at the patellar tendon. Do this for 55,000 steps necessary for a marathon and the inflammation can accumulate to a level that now registers as painful. Similar to an acute injury, decreasing inflammation and restoring tissue health is the number one priority. But your physical therapist is specially trained to figure out just why that injury happened in the first place and what can be done to prevent it in the future.