Ch'ang Hon Taekwon-Do


Treating and Understanding Athletic Injuries

In any athletic activity there are occasional injuries.  Taekwon-Do is no exception, with the focus of the art on combat related activities.  Understanding the nature of these injuries and their treatment can minimize your pain, frustration, and recovery time.  In this article, we will focus on minor injuries and will not address major trauma, which should be directed to a paramedic/doctor and hospital care.  The areas falling under this definition are muscle-cramps, bruises, sprains, and strains.  Dislocations and fractures will not be addressed, but an understanding of the similarity in treatment of these injuries will become apparent.


A muscle-cramp is a temporary, involuntary contraction of the muscle and is not serious if given care.  These often occur with overexertion. 


First aid for a muscle-cramp is to lengthen the muscle fiber to reduce the contraction.  Stretching and massaging the muscle will often accomplish this.  Further cramps can possibly be reduced with lowered activity and increased fluid intake. 


A bruise is not as inconsequential.  It is an area of tissue that has lost its ability, due to trauma, to insure circulation.  Blood will often pool in these areas and a discoloration will occur.  This discoloration is called ecchymosis.  The area is painful and may cause minor to significant loss of physical ability.  If severe, these can be dangerous with respect to releasing blood clots into the system.  Severe cases should always be seen by a doctor.


A sprain is the stretching or tearing of a ligament or tendon.  These injuries will result in swelling, pain, and are often accompanied by bruising.  A strain is the pulling, stretching, or tearing of muscle tissue.  This type of injury is accompanied by pain, reduced mobility, and sometimes bruising.  Strains sometimes occur close to a joint and simulate a sprain.  A strain or sprain may also be accompanied by a popping or snapping noise as the injury occurs.  Again severe cases of both strains and sprains should be seen by a doctor, and may even require a rigid cast or surgery. 


The initial emergency first aid for any of the other three injuries (bruises, sprains, and strains) can be remembered with the word ICE.  The "I" stands for the application of ice, the "C" stands for compression, and the "E" stands for elevation.  The injured area should be kept cool, immobile, elevated.  The reasons for these treatments will become clear by the end of this article.


When the body experiences an injury or threatening situation, it reacts automatically to safeguard itself.  In the case of tissue injury, the area is often flooded with fluid in an attempt to have the body to "cast" itself and fight infection.  You will notice how difficult it is to move the body in an area that has been injured.  This is the body's idea of a "cast."  This increased fluid and blood flow to an area will help to immobilize the area, fight infection, and supply the body with increased nutrients to heal the area.  However, there are significant drawbacks to this activity.  The increased pressure in the area will often further damage some already weakened tissue, making the injury worse than it already was. 


We can help the body protect itself, increase the healing time, and minimize the chance of additional injury to the area by using some basic first aid.  These include the ICE steps mentioned above.  Antiseptic care for open wounds, and immobilization of the injured area can take care of the body's requirements, but we must then keep the body from trying to carry out its swelling process.  This is aided by compression, elevation, and application of cold to the injured area to reduce the blood flow.  A combination of elevation, compression, immobilization, and intermittent cold will also decrease the pain that accompanies the injury.  The application of this treatment should be continuous for a period of 18 to 24 hours. 


The long-term treatment for joint and muscle injuries is somewhat different from that of the initial treatment.  As the local tissue damage is stabilized and becomes slightly stronger, the risk of further injury from the pressure of swelling is significantly reduced.  During this time, an increased supply of nutrients to the injured area, through higher blood flow, is beneficial.  Two methods that can be used to increase the blood flow to the injured area will be discussed below.  Swelling, pain, and a possible reoccurrence of the injury can be controlled at this stage of the treatment through anti-inflammatories and compression wrapping of the injured area. 


One of the most confusing areas concerning the treatment of these types of injuries are the rules associated with the application of ice or heat to the injured area.  It is fairly standard for the initial treatment of an injury to include the application of ice or cold packs to reduce swelling and pain.  These should be applied in 15-20 minute intervals every hour during the initial 24 to 36 hours.   To avoid freezing the skin tissue with the direct contact or an ice pack, use a cloth interlayer to separate the ice pack from the skin.  Longer use of an ice pack is not necessary because of the long-lasting effects of cold on injuries.  After a cold compress is used most arm and leg areas can take up to 2-4 hours to completely return to normal temperatures.


Confusion arises in the area of the long-term temperature treatment.  In tissue that has a heavy blood supply like muscles, the body will react to cold by trying to maintain the normal body temperature.  It does this by closing down the surface capillaries to isolate the cold area, and increase the lower level blood flow to heat the area from below.  Therefore, one can increase the blood flow to deep areas of heavy muscles with the application of cold.  On the other hand, areas with lower levels of blood supply, such as joints and bones, cannot compensate so easily to changes in temperature.  In these cases, the application of heat is more advisable.  The location and depth of the injury (bone, joint, or muscle) should always be taken into account when deciding what temperature treatments to use.  In either hot or cold treatments, 15-20 minutes, several times a day, should be a sufficient duration. 


Working out with an injury, is a problem that is always faced by the martial artist.  The weakened injury location will remain vulnerable to re-injury for some time after it "feels OK".  Sufficient caution, the compression and partial immobilization of the area with sufficient wrapping, and the possible use of anti-inflammatories is suggested.  These methods can be slowly reduced as the area heals, but remember, injuries will "feel OK", and have no symptoms, long before they are healed.


The length of time that is required for injuries to heal is dependent on many factors; the severity of the injury, the location and type of injury, your age and the state of your health, and the care you give the injured area.  After an injury occurs you cannot change its type, location, severity, your age, or the status of your health.  However, you can dramatically affect the healing process through proper first aid, long-term treatment, and the prevention of re-injury.




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