Sports, Injuries, and Pain Management
Many of us have grown up either playing sports or watching sports with friends and family. The World Series, Super Bowl, and other championship games are celebrated with nearly as much excitement from fans as holidays are. Athletics come with endless highlights and entertainment that are a part of life for millions of people. However, one aspect of athletics that we believe does not get enough attention are the lasting physical drawbacks associated with the athletes who are playing physically demanding sports, contact sports in particular.
According to Stanford Children’s Health, about 30 million U.S. children and teens participate in an organized sport of some kind, and about one-third of their 3.5 million injuries per year result from playing sports. Between 2010 and 2016, the CDC reported in their National Health Statistics Report that 2.7 million annual emergency department visits for sports injuries were by those between the ages of 5 and 24 years old. While we love to hear that children, teens, and young adults are staying physically active and also involved in a teamwork environment, the data on injuries tell us that they are very common, and we should have some tools in place that make recovery a part of a daily lifestyle to prevent long term pain or other ailments in the future.
The above statistics are not at all meant to be a call to cancel any or certain sports, but instead an urge to bring more awareness to the potential risks associated with sports, as well as to provide some possible ideas to revive either tender or injured areas of the body. The following interview with our co-founder, Aaron, is meant to serve as an optimistic story intended for those who have suffered from sports-related injuries and especially for those who have chronic pain from injuries, as these are the actions that have benefited him personally.
Tell readers a little bit about your physical conditions and ailments, and what caused them:
My ailments are a result of overtraining and participating in sports. When I did train, it was intuitive, although I believe I could have had more guidance in some areas. I did a lot of powerlifting and the information about training at a young age wasn’t as advanced or readily available for me or my coaches. We’ve come a long way in our knowledge of how to prepare the body for intense sports. So, I think my chronic pain and inflammation resulted from a combination of overtraining and injuries sustained during gameplay. Football is a brutal sport, it’s rough. The object is to move other people’s bodies. I played running back, so in every play that I had the ball, eleven people were trying to wrestle me to the ground. Really, it is simple, I just worked out too much at an intense level and played football because I was good at it. I don’t know of any player of the hundreds I played with that didn’t sustain at least one injury. I happened to have about a dozen significant injuries.
For ailments, get ready for this list! I blew out my knee, tore my ACL, had partial tears of other ligaments in my knee, damaged my labrum in my acetabulum (the hip socket), and experienced fractures of my femur around the femoral head. I also sprained my AC joint (in the shoulder), sprained both ankles, broke bones, had a rib removed, suffered DVTs, and have built up scar tissue from being tackled over and over. I think my body responded by protecting those hurt areas with scar tissue and by tightening the muscles surrounding those injuries. I spent about a decade training (or overtraining) and playing a sport that naturally produces a response in the body to protect itself, which for me resulted in less mobility, more scar tissue, and just pain.
All of these injuries resulted in seven surgeries and I probably could have had more work done, but I chose not to because I was tired of surgeries and being put under.
Wow! That is a very long list of ailments and injuries. So tell me, how do these conditions affect you on a daily basis? And/or in the long term?
Unfortunately, my injuries and the surgeries impact me on a daily basis because they left me with chronic pain, chronic inflammation, stress and anxiety relating to my pain and overall health (I have stress and anxiety about things getting worse in my body or new things coming about), and depression. Often because of the pain and the inability to do things that I used to be able to do.
Like sports. I love playing basketball and I can’t play regularly because of the state of my knees and hips. Hiking, tennis, and other sports I enjoy playing on occasion. I still choose to do these things from time to time, but I can’t play as vigorously as I did before or at the frequency that I’d like. It’s really not so often. I think I played tennis twice last year and would have loved to play weekly. I would love to play basketball multiple times a week, and I probably played zero times in 2020.
So tell me if I’m summing this up correctly: You don’t do these activities or play these sports more frequently because it ultimately is going to result in more pain and more time recovering from the activity, so you just choose to avoid certain activities altogether because it often results in more stiffness or new ailments that you maybe could have avoided had you not participated in those activities?
Yes. That’s a good way of putting it. We know about muscle memory, right? Well, my body is used to being beaten up and it has this natural response when I work out now or play sports, and there are a few things going on. I have structural joint damage, which is a big piece of it. There’s nothing I can do about it at this time - you can’t just pump cartilage into your joints. Cartilage is there to support your bones and I’ve simply worn mine down. So I deal with structural joint issues, cartilage tearing, loss of cartilage, ligament damage, and muscular damage - basically every part of my body has hurt, so things don’t function the same way a “typical” body does. If you damage a ligament, it repairs, but it also might never be the same, at least for me that’s what happened.
Whew! Tell me how you combat your pain; i.e. what’s in your toolbox?
That’s exactly what I call it, my pain management toolbox. The body is connected to the brain so I have some positive effects mentally when I do these things. One of the biggest things for me is intentional movement. I know that movement helps increase mobility, but I have to be doing things that don’t aggravate my injuries. It’s a cyclical thing. Sometimes certain movements are detrimental as I mentioned earlier, it depends on what the movement is. Low impact movement is what helps the most, through lubricating the joints, elongating muscles, and increasing range of motion. I view it as physical therapy for my injured areas. So I do hot yoga, swimming, and I ride my bike. Those three are big aerobic activities for me. I also do mobility and strengthening exercises.
To get to the point of being able to move mindfully, I use hemp products and cannabinoid therapy. That helps to reduce my inflammation, pain, and anxiety; if I can start there, then I’m ready for that low-impact, full-body exercise approach. Things like cannabinoids, or pain relievers for that matter, they don’t fix the route problem. So when I say toolbox, the root problem is that I did all this damage to myself, and even the strongest pain reliever or the most catered cannabinoid therapy approach isn’t going to erase the pain. You have to actively rehabilitate if you want to reduce your potential for pain, and things like cannabinoids help reduce my inflammation and pain as I enter into rehabilitation activities.
The other thing that is huge for me is the way that I eat. In order to be able to move the way that I move, especially with the joint pain, the lighter and leaner I am, the better my aches feel. The more anti-inflammatory foods I have, the better I feel. My diet is plant-based and vegan because I’ve felt my best following this lifestyle. My energy levels have increased and I simply feel better throughout the day.
To sum it all up, the combination of the way I eat, how I move, what I do before I move (i.e. consuming cannabinoids like CBD and THC), and what I do after I move (i.e. stretching and ice baths) is all of critical importance. I have tried many additional healing modalities, and have learned a lot about what works for me. When each of us addresses our own chronic pain and inflammation we must be students of our bodies. What works for me might not be right for you. But, if anyone who reads this interview wants to pick my brain about what I have learned, have them email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I would be happy to share everything I know, or even just listen. We often bottle up our pain and we don’t talk about it, and sometimes just telling someone else how you are feeling can help.