Treating Summer Sports Injuries with Ultrasound Therapy

It’s starting to feel like summer! Spring is in full swing and with the coming of hot weather, comes more opportunities to play our favorite warm weather sports and activities. Playing sports and participating in warm-weather activities has several benefits including improving physical health and mental well-being. However, from golf to swimming to hiking, these activities also carry a risk of injury. While it can be common for some of these activities to cause some scrapes or bruises, severe injuries can produce several problems including: 

Common Sports Injuries That Happen in the Summer
  • Acute pain
  • Swelling and edema
  • Decreased range of motion
  • Debilitating recovery time
  • Loss of Work

The most common summer sports injuries include: strains, sprains, repetitive stress injuries, concussions, and heat-related injuries.

  • Strains and Sprains injuries can affect muscles, tendons, and ligaments. Ankle sprains (ligament injury) are the most common summer sport injury and can occur with activities like hiking or tennis.
  • Repetitive Stress injuries occur with sports like tennis, or golf and occur when the muscle or tendon is overused. The most common type of repetitive stress injury is a stress fracture or tendinitis.
  • Dehydration or heat-related injuries are caused by improperly hydrating during physical activity. During the summer, dehydration can occur during any physical activity, from hiking to golfing. Unfortunately, dehydration can progress to more dangerous conditions like heat exhaustion or stroke.
  • Concussions can occur from being hit by a ball during activities like baseball, or a crash between two people, as can occur during sports like soccer. Concussions don’t always result in unconsciousness and are a serious injury that can lead to nausea, headache, dizziness, and difficulty concentrating. Multiple concussions can lead to long-term problems.

Ideally, patients will take steps to avoid these injuries, by incorporating preventative measures.

  • Remind your patients to always warm up and cool-down. Warm ups are great to get the muscles ready for activity and exertion. This will increase a muscles flexibility and readiness for activity. Cool downs are often left out, but help release tightened muscles from the increased stress of exercise and helps muscles loosen back to their normal state.
  • Even adults need to wear proper protective gear! For example, bike helmets are a big help in preventing concussions.
  • Educate patients on the importance of hydration and proper nutrition as a key tool in getting the body ready to participate in sports and activities and helping to prevent certain heat related injuries.
  • And finally, one of the most important elements in avoiding injuries is making sure a patient is in the proper physical condition to participate in their chosen sport or activity. Working with therapeutic bands can help improve a patient’s strength and flexibility without placing undue stress on the joints. Rehab bands also offer patients the ability to increase resistance as needed.

However, despite attempts to prevent injuries, occasionally they still happen. That’s where physical therapy comes in! Physical therapy is the key to a fast and full recovery. Unfortunately, most of these injuries will get worse if not treated, which increases both physical and financial long term expense for our patients.

Treating Summer Sports Injuries with Physical Therapy

There are three phases to summer sports injury rehabilitation. Phase one represents the initial healing phase when treatment generally includes rest, pain reduction, swelling reduction and promotion of tissue healing. In order to accomplish these goals, the physical therapist will utilize specific modalities like ultrasound therapy.

Therapeutic Ultrasound: Therapeutic ultrasound machines are a great treatment modality for most summer sports injuries, including sprains, strains and repetitive stress injuries. Therapeutic ultrasound can help:

  • Reduce pain
  • Decrease muscle spasm
  • Increase range of motion
  • Facilitate tissue, tendon, bone healing
  • Improve recovery time

Let’s look at some specific sports injuries to discuss how therapeutic ultrasound can help improve rehabilitation outcomes.

  • Golfer’s Elbow: Golfers are at a high risk for repetitive use injuries like golfer’s elbow or tendinitis, which causes irritation and inflammation of the inner tendon leading to pain and loss of range of motion. If left untreated, golfer’s elbow can worsen leading to tendon tears. Ultrasound therapy can help decrease pain in addition to improving range of motion. Not only that, but ultrasound therapy facilitates tissue and tendon repair. Using a smaller ultrasound head allows practitioners to target the area, while pulsed mode is perfect for treating closer to the surface of the joint.
  • Hiking Sprains: At face value, hiking is often seen as a low-risk past-time, but walking on a jagged, unleveled surface can lead to falls and ankle sprains or strains. Initially, an ankle sprain or strain should be treated according to first aid R(est)-I(ce)-C(ompression-E(levation in order to reduce immediate pain and swelling. Physical therapy can further help reduce these symptoms in addition to helping to strengthen the ankle in order to help avoid future recurrence. Not only can ultrasound therapy help reduce acute pain and inflammation, therapeutic ultrasound can also initiate soft tissue and tendon repair in the ankle. As with treating golfer’s elbow, a smaller ultrasound soundhead applicator (1 cm or 5 cm) is beneficial in order to target treatment, while the pulsed mode allows for access to this closer-surface injury. One product that has both is the SoundCare Plus Professional Ultrasound.

Phase two in healing sports injuries moves on to helping facilitate the healing of injured tissue. Again, therapists may continue use of ultrasound therapy in this phase because of its ability to initiate tissue and tendon repair. A study published in Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise found that ultrasound therapy is able to stimulate the production of collagen and jump starts tendon repair in Achilles tendon injuries.  Achilles tendonitis is an over-use injury that can affect runners, baseball and tennis players during the summer months.

Related Articles: 10 Reasons to Use Ultrasound Therapy

Phase three in treating sports injuries looks to return patients to full function while building strength, endurance and coordination in order to avoid future recurrence of their injury and prepare them for injury prevention for other types of injuries. This phase utilizes therapeutic exercise along with pain-relieving modalities like therapeutic ultrasound as needed.

Summer is the time for most people to enjoy their favorite activities. With the right prevention and attention, it’s possible to enjoy an injury-free summer. But for those that do sustain an injury doing their favorite summer past-times, physical therapy is the best choice to returning them to full function in the shortest amount of time.