Injuries – they are trying to tell you something!


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It’s something that any person who plays sport is guilty of; playing through the pain is the done thing. If you don’t, you’re seen as weak. Your team suffers, team-mates and fans hold it against you and, more often than not, you hate yourself for it. Unless the injury is serious you are expected, as an athlete, to continue regardless so you don’t let anyone down. What very few people are aware of, though, is the serious consequences that could come about as a result of this.

Every week there is always debate about whether a professional sports person will be fit enough in order to take to the field or arena. Some sports even have last minute fitness tests just hours before a game to decide if an athlete is ‘ready’ to participate. To me, this is absolutely ridiculous. If there is any question over a player’s fitness on the day of a game, it’s clearly a sign they aren’t ready. Even if they pass, it’s highly likely they will won’t last the entire duration of the game. What makes this even worse is that these tests are done by club doctors, who are under enormous pressure to make sure all the best players are available. This can either lead to a competitor hiding their pain during the test or the doctor passing them even if they are nowhere near ready.

What riles me more, though, is the ‘heroic’ status often given to those players who play on through injury. Most definitions of heroism revolve around saving the lives of others, so how can athletes playing through pain be classified as heroes? The only thing they are saving is their status. Yes, they are showing loyalty and devotion and they should be admired for that, but that’s all it is. In the 2012 Rugby League Grand Final, Warrington Wolves’ Paul Wood received a seemingly innocuous knee in the groin area which caused him some discomfort but not enough for him to ask to come off. Less than 24 hours later, he only had one testicle remaining; the other had been ruptured and had to be surgically removed. The BBC, of all people, described him as a hero – he had no idea how serious the situation was, so how can he be given such accreditation? Yes, he should be commended for his dedication and exceptional pain tolerance, but he isn’t a hero.

Of course, it’s not always the athlete’s decision to continue. Professional sport has brought around a desire for success that outweighs anything else and the pressure on the players to participate no matter what is intense. It comes from chairmen, managers and coaches, fans and even national governing bodies. Olga Korbut, the four-time Olympic gold medallist in gymnastics, wrote in her autobiography about how she was forced by both her coach and the Soviet Sports Committee to compete despite the fact she could barely walk, just so the USSR could boost its status as a ‘superpower.’ Whilst quite a controversial statement, I’m sure there are many athletes out there even now who are forced to compete through injury just to please corportate officials in suits.

The only way to beat this is education – not only do people need to be taught from an early age the future risks of playing through the pain, they also need to learn how to stand up to those putting pressure on them in these situations and say ‘no.’ Whether this will ever happen I don’t know, but if it is implemented into the National Curriculum during my lifetime I will be a happy man.

It sounds as though I’m having slating at a lot of people here, but the reason I’m doing it is that I understand what it’s like to be an athlete – as well as the pressure from others, the thought of missing out on doing something you love is painful. I also, though, have experienced the problems that ignoring pain can cause.

When I was 11, I pulled something in my groin area whilst playing a game of cricket. Being young and naïve, I didn’t think much of it and played the next game a few days later despite not having fully recovered. Whilst batting in that game, I felt something go ‘ping’ exactly the same place but still continued. It was only three quarters of a year later that I was finally back to full fitness – after five months of X-rays, MRI and CT scans I was still in so much pain that I was limping. It was only when I was finally referred to a physio that I found out I had partially detached a tendon off my hip. The next four months compromised of quite intensive rehab, including having to re-learn to walk and run properly after hobbling around for so long.

Even now, nearly seven years on, there are still consequences. I still haven’t gained full mobility in my right hip, whilst my back muscles developed in abnormal ways due to not walking properly for so long. They often cause me a lot of pain and have also led to an extremely irritable sciatic nerve in my right leg which causes great discomfort at times. All because I didn’t miss a game or two of cricket to recover.

Although not life-threatening, the problems I have can be quite debilitative at times. Even now, I continue to do a lot of exercise despite all the pain they cause; the difference now, though, is that now I know when I should or shouldn’t do something. What I want, though, is for people to recognise when to stop before it’s too late. Athletes, whether professional or amateur, need to learn that playing through the pain barrier isn’t ‘heroic’; in most cases it’s just selfishness, ignorance, or a bit of both.

Although not life-threatening, the problems I have can be quite debilitative at times. Even now, I continue to do a lot of exercise despite all the pain they cause; the difference now, though, is that now I know when I should or shouldn’t do something. What I want, though, is for people to recognise when to stop before it’s too late. Athletes, whether professional or amateur, need to learn that playing through the pain barrier isn’t ‘heroic’; in most cases it’s just selfishness, ignorance, or a bit of both.

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