Sports injuries:Treating musculoskeletal injury

A range of alternative treatments can effectively ease pain and speed recovery in active individuals who sustain sprains, strains and even more serious injuries.

* Chiropractic can rehabilitate by working through the spine, and many professional sportspeople rely on chiropractors to aid rehabilitation. Studies show that chiropractic is particularly effective for neck pain/sprain (Injury, 1996; 27: 643-5; J Orthop Med, 1999; 21: 22-5) and low-back pain.

* Massage may reduce muscle soreness (J Orthop Sports Phys Ther, 1994; 19: 93-9), but wait for two to six hours after exercise as massage can divert much-needed blood from the muscles (Med Sci Sports Exerc, 2004; 36: 1308-13).

* Hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HO) can speed healing in crush injuries and compartment syndromes (when a muscle becomes too big for the sheath that surrounds it, causing pain). It has also begun to be used as an alternative therapy for sprains, ligament tears and muscle injury (Phys Sportsmed, 1995; 23: 46-7). However, there is little research to prove its effectiveness. A recent randomised double-blind study of 32 subjects with acute ankle sprains found that HO treatment did not speed recovery time (Am J Sports Med, 1997; 25: 619-25).

* Magnet therapy. Wearing magnets before and during exercise is said to increase circulation, thereby improving performance and reducing the risk of injury and, when injured, reducing inflammation. Bioelectromagnetism, using extremely low-voltage electrical currents and magnetic fields, has been studied for its effects on pain relief and soft-tissue wound-healing. Perhaps the most striking claim for this therapy is that it can promote healing of non-uniting bone fractures (J Bone Joint Surg Br, 1990; 72: 347-55).

* Relaxation techniques, including autogenic training (which focuses on imagining a peaceful environment), meditation, progressive muscle relaxation and paced or deep breathing, is helpful in reducing chronic pain in a variety of medical conditions (JAMA, 1996; 276: 313-8). These may even help to prevent injury. There is a great deal of research suggesting a strong relationship between being stressed out and sustaining athletic injuries (J Sport Exerc Psychol, 1988; 10: 294-306; Am J Sports Med, 2000; 28: S10-5).

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