How to manage tendon injuries
|Written by Peter Lewis on 05 September 2012|
Tendon problems in kickboxing do not get a lot of publicity, yet there are a lot of tendons in the body and many of them are prone to injury. Collectively, they cause a lot of lost time for both fighters and trainers.
Hamstring tendon tears are one of the most debilitating martial arts injuries. Adductor tendon or groin tears are also devastating. Other tendon problems I commonly see from the kickboxing industry include Achilles and patellar tendonitis, rotator cuff — especially supraspinatus tendonitis — Iliopsoas or hip flexor tendonitis, tennis and golfers elbow, sesamoiditis and extensor tendonitis of the knuckles.
I will talk about some of the principals of management of tendon injuries in general, some of the tricks for specific tendon injuries, and the latest advances in treatment.
Tendons are made of collagen and connect a muscle to a bone. They act like ropes to transmit the force of contraction of the muscle to bend a joint and move the bone. They often become injured when they have to bend around a joint.
Tendons can become injured through repetitive overuse, a sudden strain, or by direct trauma.
The first principal of management is rest. This is often difficult because it means time out from training. The job of a good trainer or sports physician is to find alternate ways to train and keep fit while resting the injured area. Basic ideas are if you have a lower limb injury then it is time to work hands. If you have an upper limb injury then practice kicks. You can also just work with one side only. Last year I had a right supraspinatus injury that flared up every week when I spared and then settled with rest. This pattern went on for months. Eventually I was told I should have surgery. For three months I learnt to spar with only my left hand. I did not throw a single right. It was frustrating! I was hit a lot of times. Now my supraspinatus is as good as new and my left has improved enormously. My injury was actually good for me.
Putting ice on an injury for 20 minutes has been taught religiously in many first aid courses for a long time. It does relieve pain in the short term. It is now being questioned if it has a lasting value or may in fact delay the healing marginally. It probably is useful if it is all that is available and you do not have any other treatment options on site at the time.
I am a big fan of compression bandaging and always carry lots of ‘Tubigrip’ bandages to the fights. They are useful a to reduce swelling and also good for chronic injuries.
This is especially important for your lower limb injuries such as Achilles to improve circulation.
These often work like magic for tendon injuries. Some people are scared that they just mask the pain. This is only slightly true. They will reduce pain because they reduce swelling and therefore pressure (there’s a fine line between pressure and pain). Reducing swelling is vital for healing many tendon injuries. Often there is a vicious cycle where swelling causes more friction and rubbing on the tendon which causes more injury. With groins and hamstrings the ache or pain of the injury often causes the muscle to tighten up so we end up injuring it recurrently. Anti-inflams can break this cycle. The thing to be careful about is not to go back to full training just because it feels a bit better. It still needs time to heal. My favorite anti-inflam is Anaprox 550.
Stretching is especially important in the lower limb tendon injuries such as hamstring, groin, hip flexor and Achilles. It is not very useful in the upper limb. Stretching actually helps the tendon fibres align as they are healing so you end up with a stronger tendon scar and it reduces the shortening that often sets the tendon up for recurrent injuries.
I have been really impressed with what a difference a good rehab programme makes, especially with shoulder and hamstring injuries. The people who specialise in this are exercise physiologists. They are like physios or advanced personal trainers. The good ones are covered by Medicare. There is a new scheme called care plans. If you have a chronic, recurrent injury that has been going for about six months, you can get a care plan to see an exercise physiologist or physio to help you with a strengthening programme and if you get a referral from your doctor it can cost you nothing. Most sports physicians work closely with exercise physiologists nowadays.