Managing The Pain: The Olympic Athlete And The Weekend Sports Warrior

Managing The Pain: The Olympic Athlete And The Weekend Sports Warrior

Watching the incredible action and athleticism of sporting events like basketball’s March Madness, the Super Bowl, or the Olympic Games would inspire anyone to hit the court or gym and ‘get back into shape once and for all’!

Not so fast.

Many of the pain complaints we treat at MBSP are of the ‘weekend sports warrior’ variety; shin splints and lumbar strains, tennis (or golf) elbow, knee injuries and stress fractures. And the injury is usually not because of a dramatic, last minute, game-winning dunk or goal. The culprit is often not properly warming up beforehand, and/or stretching afterwards.

However, one of my recent patients was hardly a part-time athlete: Gold Medalist Carin Jennings Gabarra, star forward on the 1996 Olympic Games US women’s soccer team.  Competitive soccer has brought a slew of honors and recognition to Carin but the extreme physicality of the game eventually took its toll.


“Athletes are different. We expect a lot from our bodies,” said Gabarra. “Playing soccer professionally for 30 years, I had the expected wear-and-tear. Then one day I went for a run and my back seized up. That’s when I knew I needed help.”

Carin started getting physical therapy but it wasn’t enough. Her body wouldn’t allow her to run; and when you’re also the head coach of the US Naval Academy women’s soccer team, that’s a problem.

Managing The Pain

Coach Gabarra running a training session with the US Naval Academy women’s soccer team. A nerve root block helped her return to what she loves.

To relieve her pain and help get her back to running coaching sessions for her team, I gave her a nerve root block; that’s an injection into the sheath surrounding a nerve root in the spine to identify precisely where the pain was coming from, and then decreasing it.

“It’s pretty unnerving to have to get a shot to your spine but Dr. Zamfirov took plenty of time to answer all my questions and make me feel comfortable. That shot enabled me to run again!”

Treating patients’ pain and restoring patients back to function has always been my mission as a physician.


The best way to avoid a sports injury is through a regular warm up and stretching routine. It not only helps prevent injury in the first place but also increases your performance and endurance:

  • Start with an aerobic warm up for 8-10 min (treadmill, elliptical, stationary bike, jogging). Stretch the muscle groups for at least 30 seconds. Don’t bounce!
  • Increase intensity gradually. Don’t do too much, too fast.
  • Listen to your body. The saying “no pain, no gain” is not always appropriate. Don’t power through any sharp and worsening pain.
  • Stay hydrated. Replenishing the fluids lost during exercise is important.
  • Adequate hydration prevents muscle cramping.


Now you’re ready to run, play hoops, kick a football or swing a baseball bat. But don’t forget to stretch every day. Flexibility is essential to preventing injuries. You don’t need special equipment for stretching or to go to the gym. You can stretch everywhere: at home, at work, on the street, even in bed. You can even use yoga, Pilates or swimming to meet your daily stretch needs. Just never use the excuse that you don’t have time to stretch.


Dr. Zvezdomir ‘Zed’ Zamfirov is a Specialist in Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation/Pain Management. He’s a former professional athlete, and still plays soccer competitively.

Contact MBSP and speak with one of our physicians about our customized pain management programs.