Overuse Injuries – Is Inflammation to Blame?

March 23, 2015
back pain
Categories: Uncategorized

Team sports offer many benefits to young athletes – the regular physical activity helps to improve muscular strength, endurance, and can support a healthy weight. Kids in sports also learn about good sportsmanship, goal setting, and how to prioritize & manage their time.

But when choosing team sports – parents and kids need to also consider the relative risk of injuries associated with each chosen sport.

Acute Injuries:

Certain sports come with a higher risk for acute injuries – which generally happen as a result of some impact or force. For example, contact and high impact sports like football, tend to come with a higher risk for a broken bone or concussion than non-contact sports.

If your child or teen is participating in a sport that comes with a higher risk of acute injuries – it is important to make sure that they are doing age-appropriate exercises to strengthen their muscles & bones. It is also important to support their bones with a healthy diet and/or high quality supplements – read this article: Got Fractures? for more information about building healthy & strong bones in kids.

Chronic/Overuse Injuries:

Another type of injuries that can happen – are chronic injuries – which are generally linked to repetitive use – such as tennis elbow, swimmer or pitchers’ shoulder, and shin splints.

The question is – why does one person end up with tennis elbow, while her tennis partner – who plays the same amount of tennis – does not? One thing to consider/rule out is poor form. Another contributing factor could be overtraining. But one commonality in most chronic injuries is….

Chronic Inflammation.

A critical part of the healing process – inflammation is part of the body’s natural response to an insult or injury. For example, if you hit your head, inflammation will cause the injury site to swell and bruise. Suffering from a cold – your nose will likely swell up and get red. Cut yourself? Inflammation floods the area with white blood cells, and helps to prevent infection.  In these scenarios, inflammation is generally short-lived. It helps with the healing process, and  when the area is healed, the inflammation generally will “turn off.” But sometimes this process can go a little haywire, and the inflammation becomes chronic and systemic. This is when inflammation switches from healing to harm.

What causes inflammation to get out of control?

There are a number of dietary factors that can lead to systemic & chronic inflammation:

  • Undiagnosed food intolerances (ie: gluten, dairy, soy, etc.)
  • Nutrient deficiencies/imbalances:
    • Diets high in inflammation-promoting omega 6 fatty acids (such as vegetable oils, corn oil, soy oil, cottonseed oil, etc).
    • Insufficient intake of inflammation-lowering omega 3 fats (such as fatty fish, fish oil, chia seeds, hemp hearts, nuts).
    • Diets high in sugars, processed foods, trans fats, and toxins
    • Low levels of various key nutrients like vitamin D, magnesium, and more –can lead to weak bones, chronic muscle aches/ pains, inflammation and asthma.
  • Chronic infections (such as bacterial overgrowth in the gut, or periodontal disease)
  • High levels of poorly managed stress
  • Gut bacterial imbalances

Healing Overuse Injuries:

Athletes that are dealing with chronic pain should use RICE to help deal with the symptoms:

  • Rest – Athletes need sufficient rest in between practices in order to recover. If they have an injury, they ideally should be taking time off to heal, instead of trying to “push through the pain.” Overuse injuries that are not allowed to heal, can lead to permanent damage (this has been seen in young baseball pitchers – which is why there are limits to the amount of pitches that young kids can pitch per game).
  • Ice – Applying ice to an area that tends to get inflamed can help to keep the inflammation down, and support healing and recovery.
  • Compression – applying compression to an area that tends to get inflamed can help to reduce the swelling and keep pain to a minimum.
  • Elevation – if it is possible to elevate the area that tends to swell up, that can also help to keep the inflammation down.

Using a topical arnica gel or cream can also help to reduce pain & soreness.

Making some simple changes to the diet can also help to reduce the root cause of systemic inflammation:

  • Cut back on the sugar, processed foods, and omega 6 fats
  • Increase the intake of omega 3s fatty acids (add a high quality fish oil supplement, chia seeds, etc.)
  • Take a high quality professional grade multivitamin with vitamin D3, magnesium and methylated B vitamins.
  • Add a daily probiotic with at least 20 billion live cultures.
  • Increase your intake of antioxidant-rich foods like berries, leafy greens and green tea.
  • Avoid foods that you are intolerant to (not sure what those are? Have a food intolerance panel run, or do a food elimination diet).
  • If there are digestion issues, consider having a stool panel run to see if there could be an infection or imbalance in the gut.

Some other manifestations of chronic inflammation include autoimmune diseases, arthritis, allergies, asthma, as well as chronic aches and pains. Labeled “The Secret Killer” by Time Magazine, chronic inflammation not only causes pain and swelling – it is associated with an increased risk of most non-communicable diseases – including heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and even dementia and Alzheimer’s. So getting to the root of the cause of that painful swimmer’s shoulder or tennis elbow may actually reduce an athlete’s risk of disease later in life.

Some additional recommended reading:

Reduce Inflammation to Protect the Brain, Dr. Perlmutter

Vitamin D is a Powerful Anti-Inflammatory, Byron J. Richards, CCN

Greater Magnesium Associated with Reduced Inflammation, LEF


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Sara Vance Article written by Nutritionist Sara Vance, author of the book
The Perfect Metabolism Plan A regular guest on Fox 5 San Diego, you can see many of Sara’s segments on her media page. She also offers corporate nutrition, school programs, consultations, and affordable online eCourses. Download her free 40+ page Metabolism Jumpstart eBook here.

*This article is for educational purposes only. The content contained in this article is not to be construed as providing medical advice. All information provided is general and not specific to individuals. Persons with questions about the above content as how it relates to them, should contact their medical professional. Persons already taking prescription medications should consult a doctor before making any changes to their supplements or medications.

©2015, all rights reserved. Sara Vance.

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