Skip to main content

Why You Shouldn’t Play Through an Injury

Why You Shouldn’t Play Through an Injury

You’ve probably heard the common cliché about pushing your physical capacity to the max, even if it means pushing through the discomfort of a sports injury: No pain, no gain.

While it may be tempting to “walk it off” and stay in the game when you sustain an injury on the field or in the midst of a competitive sporting event, doing so can have damaging and quite possibly performance-impairing consequences further down the line. 

As board-certified orthopedists who specialize in sports injury diagnosis, treatment, and prevention at Sports Medicine Oregonour experienced team understands the competitive impulse to play through the pain and finish what you started. 

We also know, however, that this common impulse can have unintended ramifications that keep you sidelined for much longer than you might expect. Here’s why we don’t recommend playing through any injury — no matter how minor it may feel in the moment. 

Two basic types of sports injuries explained

Sports injuries can affect virtually any type of musculoskeletal tissue, from bones, muscles, and skin to cartilage, tendons, and ligaments. Impact-related trauma may affect the brain, nerves, or blood vessels, too. While sports injuries can also happen to virtually any part of your body, most occur in major joints and muscle groups.

Many factors influence the type of sports injury you’re most vulnerable to sustaining, including your preferred activity, fitness level, training techniques, gender, and age. All sports injuries fall into two general categories:

Acute sports injuries

These injuries happen suddenly. While they can range in severity, most acute sports injuries cause abrupt pain, swelling, or bruising that may make it difficult to move a joint normally or place weight on a leg, knee, ankle, or foot. A severe acute injury may leave the affected limb extremely weak, or cause a bone or joint to be visibly out of place.

Overuse sports injuries 

Overuse injuries develop gradually, as a result of repetitive motions that stress the same body tissues over and over again. These chronic injuries tend to cause the most pain when you play or exercise, and are likely to trigger inflammation, swelling, and dull, achy pain when you rest. Left unaddressed, overuse trauma and tissue damage can set the stage for a likely acute sports injury when you’re in the game.

Two possible “play-through-the-pain” scenarios

If you sustain a severe acute injury in the game — like a major ankle sprain, a torn hamstring muscle, or a dislocated shoulder joint — you won’t have the option to “walk it off” or “play through the pain.” In fact, you probably won’t be able to get off the sidelines at all, unless it’s to head to the ER or urgent care.

But what if you sustain a “minor” sports injury, or simply start to feel emerging pain in a high-use joint or muscle group? What if you feel “slightly injured,” but not “injured enough” to call it quits? We advise you to keep yourself sidelined: Playing through the pain is almost never a good idea. 

Here’s why: The strong desire to remain on the field, coupled with elevated endorphin levels from having been in the game, and the surging adrenalin levels that can accompany an injury, mean that the true nature of your pain can be masked — and you won’t be able to accurately assess the extent of your injury. Continuing to play leads to two possible scenarios:

Best-case scenario

In the best-case scenario, playing through an injury doesn’t cause more trauma, but it does delay and impair your healing and recovery. Staying in the game despite nagging joint or muscle pain doesn’t give the damaged tissues the rest they need to mend and get better; instead, it keeps them under injury-prolonging stress and strain.

Worst-case scenario 

In the worst-case scenario, playing through the pain advances a relatively minor injury into a major one. Consider muscles, bones, tendons, or ligaments that have been weakened by overuse: If you don’t let them rest and heal, they’re far more likely to crack, tear, or rupture. 

In every worst-case scenario, an injury that could have healed with rest and conservative care becomes a condition that requires a lengthy recovery, and possibly even surgical repair.

Are you nursing a sports injury? We can help 

Remember: Fresh or emerging sports injuries are much easier to treat than long-standing ones. Even better, future sports injuries can often be prevented with adequate sports equipment, proper biomechanics and cross-training, necessary warm-ups, cool-downs, and recovery, and gradual increases in duration and intensity.

Simply listen to your body, never play through the pain, and seek professional care when you’re off your game. If you’ve been nursing a sports injury, we can help. Call or click online to book an appointment at Sports Medicine Oregon in Tigard or Wilsonville, Oregon, today.

You Might Also Enjoy...

I Have Morton’s Neuroma: Can You Help?

I Have Morton’s Neuroma: Can You Help?

About one in three people develop Morton’s neuroma at some point in life. If you’re currently dealing with this common and irritating foot pain problem, we can help. Here’s how — and why treatment is so important.
The Dangers of a Concussion

The Dangers of a Concussion

A concussion is always serious, but the prognosis is generally positive when it’s diagnosed promptly and managed properly. A concussion can be more dangerous however, when it’s missed or mismanaged. Learn more here.
3 Sports Injuries That Can Affect Your Knees

3 Sports Injuries That Can Affect Your Knees

Your knees are complex, high-use joints that bear most of your weight when you’re in the game, leaving them more susceptible to injury. Learn more about three sports-related knee injuries we commonly see in our practice.
Managing Carpal Tunnel Pain at Work

Managing Carpal Tunnel Pain at Work

Carpal tunnel pain is usually aggravated by repetitive, wrist-intensive activities, making it a challenge to manage the condition on the job if you work with your hands. Here are five ways to support your wrist through your workday.
4 Essential Tips to Cope with Arthritis Symptoms in Winter

4 Essential Tips to Cope with Arthritis Symptoms in Winter

If cold weather is something you “feel in your bones,” you’re not alone — winter is a time of increased joint pain and stiffness for many people, especially those who live with arthritis. Learn effective ways to cope with this seasonal change.