Thursday, February 24, 2005
How a healthy body heals most minor problems

By Dr. Anthony Policastro Nanticoke Memorial Hospital

Our bodies do a very good job of healing injuries. We have all had bumps and bruises that get better over time. medical care only helps the body heal most injuries. For example, wounds will heal without stitches. However, they will heal with scars. We just use stitches to keep the scars to a minimum. Another example has to do with broken bones. Most minor broken bones heal themselves without much in the way of treatment. Sometimes, we put a cast on to allow the bones to heal better. The cast keeps the bones in a straight line so that they do not heal in a crooked manner. Even plates and screws are only used to keep bones lined up until the body heals them on its own. Unfortunately proper healing takes time. In the recent Super Bowl, Philadelphia receiver Terrell Owens played again in a shorter period of time than his physicians would have recommended. He did well and had no further injury in the game. He was lucky. Football players can have a career ending injury at any time. He was just more likely to have one in that game because he was not completely healed. That didnít happen. He beat the odds. Professional athletes get paid a lot of money. For that reason, they play when they are hurt. They play when they are sick. In order to stay in shape, they workout year round. That year round workout does not always allow time for old injuries to heal. That is why many retired football players have lifelong problems with their bones and joints. School athletes are in a different situation. They do not depend upon their sport for their livelihood. I have previously written about the fact that children with growing bones can cause permanent growth injury to those bones by playing when they are hurt. That is not a smart idea. Their bodies are telling them to take it easy.
However, there is a new kind of problem that we are now seeing. It is called over-training. It occurs when training is so hard or so long that the body does not have a chance to recover. There is a reason for having different seasons for each sport. When the season ends, minor injuries can heal instead of getting worse. A new sport will stress different bones and muscles. This allows the old injuries to improve. The problems with over straining include inflamed tendons. This is known as tendonitis. It may also cause something called stress fractures. A stress fracture is a broken bone that occurs because of gradual pressure not because of an acute injury. In addition to the problems with the bones and muscles, there are also nutrition problems. Calories will be used by the body to compensate for those burned in training. That may not leave enough calories for normal growth. This has been clearly shown to be true in gymnasts. Many people believe that short individuals make better gymnasts. In actuality better gymnasts become short because of using calories for exercise and not growth. Female athletes who overtrain will often stop having menstrual periods. This is again related to the effect of the excess exercise on the bodyís metabolism. There are also psychological effects that occur with over training. They affect about one out of 10 athletes. The symptoms include exhaustion. They may include poor self-esteem. There may be a fear of competition. In some cases there is outright depression. Since the main problem in over training is too much emphasis on one sport that extends beyond the normal season for that sport, the approach is relatively clear. Children who are still growing need to focus on more than one sport. They need to make sure that they do not exercise to the point of not having enough calories to grow. They need to have a beginning and end to each sportís season. A year-found focus on a single sport is more likely to cause problems. This approach needs to be present until the child is fully grown at about age 16. While there are some adolescents who are destined for the Olympics, they are the exception to the rule. They also have a big price to pay. That includes things like uprooting the entire family to live near a good coach. If your child is not of that caliber, be careful about how much training they get in any one sport. Parents play a key role in overseeing the training that occurs.

Dr. Anthony Policastro is medical director at Nanticoke Memorial Hospital.