The Tour of California bike race, which attracted a large field of world-class cyclists this year, was held recently. In the first stage, a number of cyclists crashed just before the finish line. I was working the race, and I'm happy to report that there were no serious injuries but plenty of superficial wounds.
Even with the right gear and best form, injuries happen. Here are a few of the exercise-related injuries folks bring to their doctor that, if attended to properly, could be treated at home.
Abrasions are among the most common injuries in almost any activity. To treat an abrasion, first clean the wound well. It's best to get in the shower and clean it with a soft surgical scrub brush (available at drugstores) and ordinary antibacterial soap. Make an effort to remove all dirt, gravel and grease, and rinse the abrasion well. Any debris left in the wound will leave a tattoo on your skin.
To dress the wound, remember that abrasions require special moist-wound protection. Bioclusive dressings are the gold standard for abrasion care, but you can also use less expensive nonadhesive or Vaseline-impregnated gauze. If you don't mind the higher cost and maintenance, bioclusive dressings afford a greater degree of moist-wound protection. They keep abrasions clean and dry; much like Gore-Tex fabric, they let fluid out and nothing in. But they are not cheap, must be changed every couple of days and are largely only available online. (People in activities prone to abrasions, such as cyclists, tend to order ahead and keep a supply on hand.) A bioclusive dressing is applied after the wound has been cleaned out; it will dry to the wound like a scab. Simply use scissors to trim any raised edges.
Acute strains are much less common than abrasions, but they can be treated at home. An acute strain occurs when a muscle or tendon is stretched or torn. If this happens, you will notice immediate pain, tenderness and swelling. You may never experience an acute strain — most active people do not — but if you do, first apply ice to the area. Take an anti-inflammatory medication as directed on the label. After any acute soreness is relieved, start a stretching program. Stretch up to and just before the point at which you would make the area sore. Resume activity gradually and give it time to heal.
Meniscus tears are even more rare. This injury most often occurs during exercise when the knee is rotated while bearing weight, for example, in basketball, volleyball, handball, skiing, skating, football and soccer — sports where you are required to cut or pivot.
The meniscus is a crescent-shaped cartilage pad in your knee joint that provides a smooth surface on which your femur and tibia move. When you're young, it's spongy and resilient, but as you age it becomes brittle and fragile. You can tear it just by squatting to pick up the newspaper.
If you tear a meniscus, your symptoms will be knee pain with a catching or grinding sensation. Your knee might even lock up and not move fully. Also, there will be some swelling with activity. If this occurs, you should avoid the activities that caused the symptoms for a week or two. If symptoms continue after a short period of rest, seek medical advice. If your knee locks, seek medical attention within a few days.
Eric Heiden, M.D., a five-time Olympic gold medalist speed skater, is an orthopedic surgeon in Utah. He co-wrote "Faster, Better, Stronger: Your Fitness Bible" (HarperCollins) with exercise performance physician Max Testa, M.D., and DeAnne Musolf. Visit fasterbetterstronger.com.