Emerging Sports Medicine Trends for Athlete Recovery (1)

Many patients may believe that the best possible therapeutic outcome is synonymous with the newest technology, which is not necessarily the case. While staying current on the latest findings, healthcare providers must balance the promise of new therapies with the reliability of tried and true methods. As a result, one of the most significant emerging trends is not tied to novel exotic therapies.

Old Is New Again

The news is filled with attention-grabbing stories about gene therapies, growth factors, antifibrotic agents, wearables, dietary personalization, and hyperbaric oxygen therapy. However, unproven benefits and poor patient compliance have deterred many healthcare professionals from adopting cutting-edge techniques.

An emerging trend for athlete recovery is the renewed interest of sports-injury specialists in modifying older methods of rehabilitation. This approach looks at tweaking the basics as opposed to going back to the basics.

Sideways in Technology

For example, classic modalities, such as cryotherapy and compression are often applied using a one-and-done approach immediately after an injury. Although cryotherapy sessions vary on time, frequent reapplications may be beneficial if done over a period of six hours. Research also suggests that broadening the area of therapy might accelerate healing. As noted in Muscles, Ligaments, and Tendons Journal, “Placing all of the emphasis in the rehabilitation specifically on the injured muscle might not be as beneficial as envisioned previously.” 

The renewed interest in classic modalities does not eliminate the need for newer technologies. A busy healthcare practice may use cryotherapy units that also supply compression therapy and come with anatomically designed wraps. These units may give the healthcare provider more precise control, can help simplify delivery of multiple treatments, enable mess-free treatment for numerous patients, and may treat  larger areas of the body. A therapeutic unit that offers more than one modality allows the staff to use their time efficiently by reducing the need for multiple setups.  


Aging vs. Injuring: Know the Difference

One of the driving factors in the renewed attention on traditional, non-surgical techniques has been the aging population. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission reports that in a five-year period, for Americans age 65 and older, sports injuries rose 54 percent.

Both doctors and patients are motivated to avoid costly hospital treatments. This has led some researchers to speculate an increase in demand for non-pharmacological and non-surgical treatment options.

Follow the Acronyms

A good example of a tweak-the-basics approach is the ongoing transformation of the classic acronym, RICE, which stands for rest, ice, compression, and elevation. The aim is to reduce the swelling, bleeding, and other damaging effects of inflammation.

Some are using the acronym PRICE, arguing, “The best 'treatment' for sports-related injuries is prevention.” Precautionary measures include safety training programs, appropriate protective equipment, and proper load management while exercising. Even when injuries are not completely eliminated, preventive measures may help  minimize their severity, which may lessen the amount of rehabilitation needed. A low injury rate and a faster recovery time may help give athletes a competitive edge. Notice that the old acronym, like the treatments it recommends, is neither discarded nor supplanted; it is modified.

PRICE is not the end of acronym evolution. The latest is POLICE. The OL stands for optimal loading. RICE is fine for the healing period immediately after the injury when decreasing inflammation is paramount. However, when the swelling dies down and muscle regeneration begins, prolonged immobilization may actually be detrimental to the recovery of muscle tone and strength. Optimal loading, also known as progressive loading, gradually introduces movement and load-bearing stress into the injured area when it may be done without the threat of re-injury.

Although the benefits of mobilization through optimal loading are well-known, this part of recovery can be problematic. For one thing, poor load management is a major risk factor for sports injuries, and care must be taken to avoid re-injury. There is no hard and fast rule in terms of how long after an injury movement can be reintroduced. Generally, the healthcare provider bases the introduction of loading on functional criteria, such as lack of pain, so as not to damage the healing tissue.

One approach is to introduce movement with minimal weight and as gradually as possible. Hydrotherapy, weight-assisted treadmills, and isometric exercise may be excellent choices for the early stages of a tissue-loading rehabilitative program.

It’s possible that certain benefits of loading can be obtained without the danger of actual weight-bearing or any exercise at all. Intermittent pneumatic compression is a safe way of introducing movement into an injured area. It not only helps reduce the swelling associated with the initial inflammatory post-injury stage, but it can also help stimulate tissue repair in the muscle regeneration phase.

It is tempting to overlook traditional therapies, such as cryotherapy, compression, and optimal loading, when classifying emerging trends. However, new technologies transform the patient’s experience of these classic modalities. They may recover quicker, use fewer narcotics, and may return to activity sooner.

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