The Unseen Cause of Recurring Injuries
For many years I have worked to help people overcome injuries and optimize their health. For many people, these injuries need to be addressed quickly and efficiently so that training can continue and competitions can be completed. As training intensity and duration increases the likelihood of injury also increases. It is my job to eliminate as many of these ‘injury variables’ as possible. This is why our assessments go way beyond just figuring out what hurts. Uncovering the underlying causes for the injury becomes the real goal. Some common causes for injury are poor mobility, poor movement patterns, weaknesses, and/or pure over-training. However, sometimes I see clients who not only have areas that continue to get injured, but also have multiple areas throughout the body that are injured, swollen, and/or are chronically in pain. When this occurs we have to start thinking outside the box. For these clients, what undoubtedly needs to be considered is the possibility of some underlying systemic inflammation. What this means is that there is something causing inflammation throughout the entire body that is really at the core of nagging, recurring injuries. While recurring injuries can also be due to weakness, poor movement patterns, and/or strict overuse, it can also be due to a limited ability to fully recover. This is where systemic inflammation plays a part. This inflammation, even if low-level, can impede the body’s ability to recover completely. And poor recovery equals a much higher incidence of re-injury.
There are really two common presentations that make me want to consider underlying systemic causes of inflammation. The first, is when recurring injuries occur to the same area regardless of consistent treatment and proper function. While this can simply be from continual overuse, systemic inflammation must also at least be considered as a reason for improper recovery and poor tissue health. The area of injury is really just the ‘weak link’ that breaks down first when excessive inflammation is present. Eliminating the cause of the inflammation can result in improved recovery, strength, and ability to handle training loads.
The second common presentation is when many areas throughout the body have low levels of pain. These typically show up in joints. So, for instance, if a client tells me that they hurt their hip and it is not getting better, but also proceed to tell me that both knees, right ankle, and many finger joints also hurt, I automatically start thinking systemic. Having numerous areas of the body that are painful is difficult to explain away with simple mechanical issues. Unless of course, they crashed their mountain bike or were involved in a motor vehicle accident. However, barring any known massive trauma it is tough for numerous areas of the body, especially on opposite sides, to be explained purely from function.
Now the question really becomes, what areas need to be assessed if systemic inflammation is suspected? This can be a little tricky, but with the proper questioning and a little digging it can be determined what areas may be necessary to test. Some areas that can potentially cause systemic inflammation are poor diet, food sensitivities, poor gut health, parasites, bacterial overgrowth, yeast infections, hormone dysfunctions, and many others. Having the ability to narrow this list down a little bit can be helpful so that proper testing can be ordered and underlying issues can be uncovered. In my clinic, we use a wide variety of tests depending on what we are trying to assess. The best part about many of these functional tests is that they are simple to do and most times can be done in the comfort of your own home.
The next level of thinking and true proactive healthcare, for either the office worker or the competitive athlete, is to always assess these underlying causes of inflammation as part of a standard assessment for overall health and prior to creating a comprehensive treatment plan. Appropriately selected lab work can accurately assess many different systems in the body to check for inflammation itself, or for those things that we know create inflammation. Treatment programs that miss this piece can many times prove ineffective or at the end be unable to completely resolve pain. If this occurs, consider seeking out a professional who can assess these ‘other’ causes and get down to the root of the problem.
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