We've all had the conversation after taking a nasty spill and tweaking a shoulder or a few back muscles. The big question is: Is it a matter of taking the pain, or will another run put you at risk of a more serious injury? Here are a few things to look for if you are deciding whether to play through the pain or resign yourself to the driver's seat for a couple of days.
Step 1: Assess the Pain
The first thing to look for is the type of injury. If you are sore after a fall, but the pain is fading, chances are you can ski through it without doing more damage. Ethan Saliba, Ph.D., ATC, PT, SCS, is the head trainer for the University of Virginia athletics department. He says: “The idea of [having] pain immediately after [you fall] and [then] it resolves [after a short period of time] is a little more forgiving. The pain that develops after you've started to cool down, or discomfort the next day — those are things that [should] create a little more caution.” So, if your shoulder is sore after a few passes and it starts to get worse, it may be time to take a few days off. “Anytime you have joint structures involved, it's a little more consequential than a little collision,” says Saliba.
Step 2: Gauge the Effects
Another key factor is your range of motion. For example, if you can't stretch your arm as far as you used to, that's a big red flag. “You can go from tendonitis to a partial tear to a substantial tear,” Saliba says. If your range of motion keeps getting worse, then odds are you have an injury that is not going to get better with time, and trying to play through the pain is a bad idea. “The idea is if it's progressive in nature,” Saliba says, “you generally pay for it one way or another.”
Step 3: Consider Your Dosage
If you've been taking two Advil to relieve your pain, and now it's not enough, you have a problem. “I'll call it a baseline of discomfort,” Saliba says, “so I have to increase the intervention to maintain that activity.” Sure, with enough pain medication, you could probably get a few runs in, but it will come back to haunt you as time goes on. If you've been icing, stretching and taking it easy for two weeks, and it's still bothering you, then it's time to see your doctor. As a side note, Saliba says icing and stretching are the first things you should do before you see a doctor. That way you've already done the basic treatment, and your physician can move to the second level of therapy on your first visit.
Step 4: Prevent Your Next Injury
The best way to deal with injuries is not to get them in the first place. To stay injury-free, it's best to start before you hit the water. “You don't use sport to get into shape,” says Saliba, “you get into shape to do sport.” Most injuries occur when you are doing something new. So if you've been a little lax in your conditioning over the winter, take the time to get in shape now, and you won't get hurt later. Stretching is also important, especially as you get older. Taking a few minutes to stretch will make a huge difference the next morning.
Step 5: Weigh Your Options
Finally, use you head. Unless you are a professional, skiing is meant to be fun. Trying to fight through an injury may give you a couple sets that day, but could keep you on shore for months. Sometimes it's better to practice your driving and wait to ski another day.