Most athletes know that the suffix itis is bad news: not fatal, but annoying and probably painful. Itis actually means “inflammation,” which describes both the sensation and the physiology of the body’s reaction to connective tissue damage.
Inflammation is swelling and pressure around an injury caused by blood cells rushing to the site. The process can help heal, but if the injury is ignored, it can build up scar tissue that will lead to chronic, lifelong pain. Repetitive motions, like pitching a baseball or rowing a boat, are most likely to be the source of an itis. Causes can range from improper motion to weak or imbalanced muscles.
A common inflammatory injury is tendinitis, an injury to the tendons, tough connective tissue between muscle and bone. Bursitis occurs around the hips, knees, feet, elbows, and shoulders due to the friction of a tendon repeatedly moving over the bursas, the small, fluid-filled sacs located there.
Because overuse is the single biggest cause of inflammation, and because inflammation occurs so gradually, it’s easy to remedy if the underlying injury is diagnosed at an early stage. Medication, physical therapy, a change in mechanics, and rest are among the common treatments.
If the inflammation is in an early stage, reduce swelling and pain with ice packs three times a day for the first three days. If that seems to help, gradually begin exercising the affected area again, keeping the ice handy for reapplication if pain returns.
Some inflammation (grades three and four on the 1-4 inflammation scale) takes longer to resolve. Don’t despair. Your doctor can suggest exercises that will help prevent atrophy of the rest of your body, including cycling, swimming, and isometric workouts. As the injury begins to heal, start thinking about slowly increasing your use of the affected area, using appropriate support (tape, elastic bandages, cushioned surfaces).
How soon is too soon to return to action? Your body will tell you. If you have a 100 percent range of motion around the affected joint, and 80 to 90 percent of your former strength, you may be ready.