Athletes And Chronic Pain: How Sports Stars Deal With Pain

Reviewed by Phillip Waite, Ph.D.

Chronic pain is something that most athletes can relate to. When you undergo intense training and high-pressure games, getting injured becomes an occupational hazard. Therefore, every athlete comes up with their own ways of dealing with chronic pain from injury. Let's have a look at how these sports stars manage their injury and pain on a daily basis.

Venus Williams

Venus Williams deals with chronic pain from Sjogren's Syndrome.

(image: Venus Williams Facebook)

Sports stars are not made of steel and Venus Williams is no exception. In 2011, the tennis great was diagnosed with Sjögren's syndrome, an autoimmune disorder that causes fatigue and chronic joint pain. It wasn't looking good for Williams as tennis is not a sport that is particularly kind to the joints. But to everyone's surprise, she made a comeback and went on to win an Olympic gold medal in the doubles tournament with her sister, Serena. Williams claimed that she owed her successful return to her then-newfound raw vegan diet which helps her to manage her pain. Leafy greens, berries, nuts and seeds, turmeric and ginger are just some of the raw ingredients that can reduce inflammation, especially if you have a condition like Venus'.

Conor McGregor

Connor McGregor manages with chronic pain.

(image: Conor McGregor Facebook)

Conor McGregor's UFC second fight was marred by an injury. What was initially assessed to be a knee sprain turned out to be something far more serious: a complete tear of his anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in his left knee. As with all cases of clean ACL tears, McGregor underwent surgery to rebuild the ligament. He began physical rehabilitation with yogic movements shortly after the operation and has since incorporated yoga into his training regime. The Irish fighter uses the ancient practice as a way to release muscle tension, which can be a source of pain and lead to injury.

Alex Puccio

Alex Puccio and chronic pain from ACL injury.

(image: Alex Puccio Facebook)

Sport climbing may not be as world-renowned as basketball or tennis, but it is just as serious as any other sport. One of the biggest names in the bouldering category is Alex Puccio who hails from Texas. She has won two gold medals in the World Cup and is the most accomplished female bouldering competitor in the world. She's been called the Comeback Queen in the world of sport climbing for her ability to heal quickly and reclaim her status. In 2015, Puccio ruptured her ACL as well as meniscus ligaments in her left knee. A little over a year later, she underwent spinal fusion surgery for a herniated disk. Puccio's secret? The elliptical machine. Because bouldering puts pressure on the knees and the spine, the 29-year old athlete turned to low-impact exercises. Puccio is not one to really take a long break and the elliptical machine provides the perfect cardiovascular workout that can help anyone stay in shape while nursing an injury.

LeBron James

LeBron James and back pain.

(image: Los Angeles Lakers Facebook)

LeBron James has been on a hot streak for several years now but he's no stranger to career-threatening injuries.  Back in 2015 King James suffered from chronic back pain and only stood up when a game was in play. That was the year that the basketball player received anti-inflammatory injections for his lumbar pain and employed Donnie Raymon, a biomechanist, to fix his back issues. Raimon put James on a pre-training and pre-game regimen which involved balancing on a physio ball. The exercises were designed to target the core, as it is made up of muscles that protect the spine, effectively reducing pain in his lower back. James is considered by many experts to be one of the best in basketball's history second only to Michael Jordan. The NBA superstar seems to have resolved his back issues and even at 33, in the twilight of his career, James is still going strong and is likely to remain on top of his game for a long time.

Rory McIlroy

Rory McIlroy has overcome a chronic rib injury.

(image: Rory McIlroy Facebook)

A rib injury is not something that any golfer can withstand, and Rory McIlroy was sidelined for at least three months. Because the injury prevented him from taking a swing, the Northern Ireland-born golfer reportedly dropped his golf shoes in favor of his walking shoes. Starting slow was highlighted in the Healing Well blog as a safe way to return to physical activity and it is exactly what McIlroy did. The golfer revealed that running caused vibrations in his ribs, so he resorted to walking 5-6 miles a day to compensate for his reduced activity. Like Alex Puccio, a switch in activities is what helped McIlroy to retain his fitness while his fractured rib healed.

Lindsey Vonn

Lindsey Vonn has overcome many chronic pain injuries.

(image: Lindsey Vonn Facebook)

As a professional alpine skier, Lindsey Vonn has had more than her fair share of injuries from fractures to torn ligaments to concussions. But impressively she has come out of them every single time much stronger. After each injury, she detailed to InStyle that she starts with exercises that increase her range of motion before moving on to strength and conditioning. She considers the days when she can bend her finger a success. For Vonn, it's important to focus on progress no matter how small it is which is a mindset from which everyone can benefit.

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