Over the last year, if you’ve picked up a new exercise habit of running, cycling or doing HIIT workouts – and subsequently sustained a strain or injury – you are not alone.
According to sports doctors, physiotherapists and orthopaedic surgeons in Singapore, the increase in number of people turning to new forms of exercise during the pandemic has in turn led to a spike in sports-related injuries.
Some of them have seen up to 50 per cent more new patients with running injuries since last year, while others have observed a 50 to 60 per cent increase in injuries arising from High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) workouts.
Oftentimes, this means injuries to the back, ankle and knee, such as slipped discs, meniscus and anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tears, and ankle ligament sprain or tears, says Dr Tony Setiobudi, orthopaedic surgeon at Mount Elizabeth Hospital. He adds that these are often a result of “the wrong setup, poor techniques, inadequate training…or engaging in a burst of sporting activities after a long period of minimal physical activity.”
In particular, Dr Setiobudi recalls a patient who tried his hand at skateboarding after being cooped up at home during the Circuit Breaker. Despite falling down and twisting his knee, the patient dismissed his injury as the pain and swelling subsided after a few days. Feeling discomfort when he walked, he only sought treatment a month later – which led to the diagnosis of a meniscus tear in the right knee, and subsequent keyhole surgery and rehabilitation. Today, the patient’s knee has fully recovered and he can walk normally without any discomfort.
Dr Andy Wee, an orthopaedic surgeon with Mount Elizabeth Hospitals and a former national athlete who specialises in the treatment of sports injuries, says that the sudden increase in frequency and intensity of exercises, especially in people who are new to running and HIIT workouts can also lead to “repetitive overuse injuries”, such as tendinitis (inflammation of the injured tendons) and cartilage injuries.
Get a diagnosis, stat
While most people can recover from muscular strains with adequate rest, doctors caution against brushing off any post-workout aches or pains as “not serious enough”. They recommend seeking medical attention promptly – especially if the discomfort does not go away even with downtime and anti-inflammation medication. Chronic pain is likely to follow if symptoms are left untreated.
Explains Dr Setiobudi, “There are different do’s and don’ts for injuries to heal well, and these are often injury-specific. It is still best to see a doctor if you sustain an injury to ascertain whether urgent surgical treatment is required.”
If the injury is traumatic, it’s even more crucial that prompt medical attention is sought to avoid permanent damage, such as loss of function or mobility.
Over the last year, Dr Wee says he’s seen an increase in cycling-related injuries as a result of more cyclists on the roads, which increase the risk of accidents occurring as a result.
“When a cyclist falls, they typically land on the upper limb, and sustain fractures around the shoulder or elbow. The most common upper limb fracture we see from cycling-related injuries is a collarbone fracture,” he says.
“Over the last year, I’ve personally seen at least a two-fold increase in the number of cyclists with upper limb fractures. Not all will require surgery, but when these fractures are displaced (whereby the bone ends shift out of position) they will require early surgical fixation. If left alone, these displaced fractures will result in long-term or permanent loss of arm function.”
A couple of his patients sought medical help three weeks after a fracture from cycling. “By then, the fracture ends had started to scar down, and it was much harder for me to reduce the fracture during surgery,” he warns. “I strongly recommend all cyclists who have sustained any upper limb injury from a fall resulting in significant pain, deformity or swelling of the upper limb, to seek early medical evaluation to exclude a displaced fracture.”
For patients who worry about having to undergo surgery for their injuries, Dr Setiobudi highlights that for most of these sports-related injuries, procedures are typically minimally invasive and have a high success rate.
For example, microdiscectomy, which consists of removing the herniated portion compressing on the spinal nerve root, can resolve the severe leg pain arising from the slipped disc immediately. Patients only need to stay for one night in the hospital post-operation.
Arthroscopy for meniscus and ACL tears is also minimally invasive, and can be done as a day surgery procedure. These can all be carried out at Mount Elizabeth Hospitals.
Treat rehab seriously
Treatment is, of course, just the first step towards full recovery. Just as you would put in effort into maintaining a workout regime, you should also have the same discipline towards rehabilitation – especially if you intend to return to an active lifestyle.
“One of the main aims of treatment is to get patients back to their pre-injury strength and ability. If the injury is treated properly and promptly, and rehabilitation with physical therapy is incorporated, this is possible,” says Dr Setiobudi.
He adds, “As an orthopaedic surgeon, I work very closely with the rehab services at Mount Elizabeth Hospital. Rehabilitation contributes significantly to the success of the surgery that I perform, as it can help speed up recovery.”
And after the hard work is done, don’t forget to incorporate daily movement into your lifestyle to reduce the recurrence of injuries. Dr Setiobudi advises standing up and stretching every 20 to 30 minutes throughout the course of the work day to avoid being stationary for too long, and doing adequate warm-up and cool-down before and after workouts.
Finding a medical provider that meets your needs
As with any medical treatment, it’s important to find a good medical provider.
At Mount Elizabeth Hospital, specialised orthopaedic surgeons, consultants, nurses, physiotherapists and occupational therapists work together to diagnose and provide a customised and holistic course of treatment.
Those who have concerns over the costs of seeking private care will also be glad to know that under Integrated Shield Plans (which, according to the Ministry of Health, about 70 per cent of Singaporeans are eligible), they are likely able to enjoy comprehensive coverage for in-hospital treatment at private hospitals.
Additionally, with a private Integrated Shield Plan complemented by a rider, the cash outlay is usually minimal.
Using the Mount Elizabeth Hospitals Bill Estimator, you will also be able to find out your approximate out-of-pocket medical expenses of your surgery by providing information on your Integrated Shield Plan and riders.
If you require more information, WhatsApp or call the Parkway Insurance Concierge 24-hour hotline (+65 9834-0999) for clarifications related to the coverage of your shield plans and panel doctors. Hotline staff are on hand to help you make an appointment with the specialist of your choice.
Greater price transparency with the Hospital Bill Estimator*
I need: Arthroscopic Repair of Meniscus
Estimated bill size: $24,205 (50th percentile) in a single-room
I am insured by: AIA HealthShield Gold Max A and Max VitalCare
My estimated out-of-pocket costs: $1,210.25 (with Panel Doctors and pre-authorisation)
*Out-of-pocket costs may be further reduced by Medisave, subjected to claim limits, and corporate insurance, if any. The estimated bill and average length of stay are calculated based on historical data and serves only as a guide. The bill size will differ depending on the severity of condition and other factors. In the event of any dispute, the decision of Mount Elizabeth Hospital is final. Please confirm your coverage with your health insurance provider.