I’d just like to expand on Monte’s answer for those who’d like to know more about additional features of acute and chronic sports injuries.
In addition to being recent, an acute injury may be due to the body having received an external force – such as a fall, collision with a competitor/opponent/object – or even be due to internal forces of the athlete’s own body. If the external force is great enough, normal healthy tissues can be damaged – eg. bones, muscles, tendons, ligaments. Alternatively, an external force of lesser degree can cause an acute injury to an athlete’s tissues that were already weakened for a range of reasons. In contrast, all that is required to set off an acute injury due to internal forces is certain postures and movements of the athlete alone. This is an interesting phenomenon, which can catch the person by total surprise, or can be preceded by milder ‘niggling’ discomfort for a time; which in hindsight to the individual would be considered to be the ‘warning signs’. So, if any particular body tissues have become weakened or compromised such that they are not able to do their job properly, not much is needed to tip them over the edge into acute injury territory.
The duration of an injury varies according to the time necessary for different tissue types to heal – eg. typically contusions/bruising heals quicker than sprains/strains, which in turn heal quicker than a shoulder dislocation. There are two stages to the healing process in a physical injury – acute and sub-acute. In the acute stage, inflammation is the process the body uses to get healing underway and repair the injured tissue/s. Following this, the tissues gradually get stronger during the sub-acute stage until they have fully healed.
As Monte mentioned, an injury is regarded as chronic when the athlete does not recover from an acute injury in the typical timeframe for the particular injured tissues. This could be because the injury is complicated, such that only partial healing is possible, or that full healing takes longer than usual. Sometimes an acute injury actually heals, only to recur on an occasional or frequent basis – which can be quite frustrating for the athlete. Unfortunately, in other cases there is complete healing of a physical injury, but the person continues to suffer ongoing pain. For more information, see the Healthshare answers to: What is chronic pain? and: What is the best way to manage chronic pain?
Recurring injuries frustrate a person’s enjoyment of their sport, decrease performance and regrettably, can even result in them having to cease sport altogether. When a relatively small external force and/or internal forces of the body are all that is needed for an acute injury to occur, a recurring cycle of symptoms is the common result. Damaged structures, such as a meniscus can lead to a swollen knee, or a lower back disc can lead to a grumpy back whenever the athlete loads up or moves these structures a certain way during their sporting postures and movements. In other situations, less than ideal quality of postures and movements during training, competition and various life activities means that the body operates with imbalances. The development of these posture and movement ‘faults’ may occur from training technique/equipment errors over time, particular work/life activities, due to having not developed ideal postures and movement patterns as a baby, other health problems. However the faults are caused, inefficient postures and movements make an athlete more susceptible to injury compared with those athletes having efficient postures and movements. Furthermore, injuries are also more likely to occur when an athlete is tired and/or lacking sufficient aerobic fitness, such as after a recent acute injury episode or other illness. This is because it is harder for them to maintain efficient postures and movements at higher levels of activity intensity and sport skill.
While not all acute injuries require assistance from a sports care practitioner, skilled clinical care and advice from one or sometimes more practitioners is necessary for complicated, complex, recurring chronic injuries in order to obtain the best outcome for the injury.
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