Sports injuries are painful, and they’re one of the quickest
ways to sideline a good player. No matter what sport you play or how you
managed to hurt yourself, the treatment and time it takes to heal from an
injury are often similar.
Acute muscle injuries happen when you suddenly stretch a
muscle beyond its level of elasticity. This can occur on a sports field or in
your own backyard. When it comes to a relatively minor injury, you don’t need a
professional trainer or doctor to treat it. You just need to know some basic
treatment and rehabilitation strategies.
Immediately after your injury
You can expect a few things to happen within the first few
hours of sustaining a muscle injury. Other than the immediate pain, you might
experience swelling and bruising. The initial sharp pain may give way to a
throbbing ache. The injured area may also be sensitive to movement and tender
to touch. You may not be able to use it normally for at least the first few
R.I.C.E. is an acronym that many sports trainers and
athletes use to remember how to treat a minor muscle injury. It stands
for rest, ice, compress, and elevate.
Resting is one of the most effective ways to start your
healing process. Your injured muscle will be weak and vulnerable to further
injury, especially in the first few hours. Take a break from moving it to help
The benefits of applying ice are greatest within the first
day or two after sustaining an injury. Apply a bag of crushed ice, a bag of
frozen veggies, or an ice pack to your injury. It will help relieve pain and
prevent swelling by decreasing blood flow to the area. To avoid frostbite,
never place the ice directly on your bare skin. Instead, wrap it in a thin
cloth or towel before applying it to the injured area. Apply ice for 15 to 20
minutes at a time, and allow your skin to return to normal temperature in
An elastic bandage wrapped firmly around your injury can help
minimize swelling by preventing the buildup of fluid. It can also help ease
pain by keeping the injured area somewhat immobilized. The bandage may not be
enough to immobilize the injured area entirely, but it will provide some support
and remind you to keep it still.
If the bandage causes tingling or numbness, remove it and
rewrap it more loosely. It shouldn’t be so tight that it causes discomfort or
interferes with your blood flow. Even gentle compression can help keep fluid
from collecting around the injury.
Elevating an injury above the level of your heart will
helping minimize swelling by allowing fluid to drain away from the area. If you
can’t raise it above your heart, try to keep the injured area at the same level
as your heart or close to it. If you suffered an injury to your buttocks or
hips, try lying down with a pillow or two wedged under your buttocks and lower
back to help lift it.
A day later
The day after suffering an injury is often the most painful.
Swelling will likely be at its worst a few hours to a couple of days after your
injury occurred. Bruising will continue to develop for the first few hours and may
be very noticeable the next day. It may turn the entire area a deep purple or
Continue using the R.I.C.E. treatment method for the first
48 to 72 hours after your injury. During this time, you should keep the injured
area wrapped with an elastic bandage, elevate it when you can, and apply ice
every few hours. If you’re experiencing pain, consider taking an
over-the-counter anti-inflammatory painkiller, such as aspirin or
ibuprofen. Acetaminophen can also help relieve pain, but it won’t reduce
During the first three days following a sports injury, don’t
apply heat to the area. While it may feel soothing, heat can increase
circulation and worsen swelling.
days to a week later
Sports injuries usually begin to heal within 72 hours. By
the third day, your pain, swelling, and bruising will likely begin to subside. The
changing colors of your bruises reflect the breakdown of blood that’s been
trapped in your skin as a result of your injury.
Once your swelling has gone down, you can begin to alternate
heat packs with ice. Applying heat will promote the circulation of blood to the
injured area, helping to deliver oxygen and nutrients to support the healing
process. Both heat and ice can help ease pain, and many trainers recommend
alternating them every few hours.
When your swelling has gone down, you can also remove your
compression bandage and begin to gently exercise the injured area. Start slowly
by lightly stretching the area, never pushing it to the point of pain. You’ll
notice your range of motion increasing a little more each day. Keep stretching
and moving for the first few weeks until you’re comfortable with normal use and
Immobilizing injuries for too long can cause stiffness and loss
of strength. You want to start moving the injured area, or walking with a
normal gait, as soon as possible.
After a month
The first few days are generally the most painful following
a sports injury. After that, you may notice some lingering pain and tenderness lasting
several weeks to a few months. This is normal. You can use ice and heating pads
to relieve pain. Medicated sports cream can also help ease discomfort. This
type of cream is available at many pharmacies.
Continue to stretch and exercise the injured area, even
after your symptoms have subsided. A muscle that’s been injured once is more
vulnerable to additional injuries. Proper stretching and moderate exercise can
help prevent future injuries. As long as your injury heals appropriately, you
should be able to return to your regular workout routines.
When to see your doctor
If you suspect your injury is severe, make an appointment
with your doctor or go to the emergency department. The following symptoms may
be a sign of a severe injury that requires professional care:
- severe swelling and pain
- visible deformities, such as large lumps or
limbs bent at strange angles
- popping or crunching sounds when you move the
- inability to support any weight with the injured
- instability in a joint
- trouble breathing
You should also contact your doctor if you have an injury
that seems minor but doesn’t improve with home treatment. After the first
month, you should have no more swelling or visible bruising around the injured
area. If you notice swelling or discoloration after four weeks, make an
appointment with your doctor. Severe pain after the first few weeks is also a
good reason to visit them.
Whether you’re an amateur athlete or professional, it’s not
unusual to get injured from time to time. You can treat a minor muscle injury
at home by following the R.I.C.E. method. For the first few days after your
injury, rest the injured area, ice it, compress it, and elevate it.
Once the swelling starts to subside, try alternating cold
and heat treatments to relieve pain. Start to gently stretch and move it. If
you suspect your injury is serious, or your recovery process isn’t proceeding
well, make an appointment with your doctor.