Acute Sports Injury Treatment
Muscle injuries are painful and 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 acute sports injury are often the same.
Muscle injuries are caused by suddenly stretching a muscle
beyond its level of elasticity. This can occur on a sports field or in your own
backyard. The good news is that you don’t need a professional trainer to
properly treat minor ligament, tendon, or muscle injuries. You just need to
know some basic information on how to treat and rehabilitate the injury.
Immediately After an Injury
There are a few things you can expect within the first few
hours of an injury, and some basic things you can do to jumpstart the healing
Other than the immediate pain, you also might experience
swelling and bruising. The initial sharp pain will give way to a throbbing
ache. The area is likely to be extremely sensitive to movement and will usually
be fairly tender to touch as well. Normal use will be hindered or impossible
for at least the first few hours.
There is an easy way to remember how to immediately begin
treating that painful pulled muscle. R.I.C.E. is an acronym that many sports
trainers and athletes use as a reminder of what to do for sports injuries. It
stands for rest, ice, compression, and elevation.
Rest is the most effective way to start the healing process
after an injury. A sprained muscle is weak and vulnerable to further injury,
especially in the first few hours.
The benefits of ice are most significant within the first
day or two of injury. Applying ice to a new injury will help relieve pain and
prevent swelling by decreasing blood flow to the area. Placing a cold pack or a
bag of frozen veggies in a towel will protect your tender skin from getting too
cold. It’s possible to give yourself frostbite, so never place the ice bag
directly on bare skin. Apply the ice for 15 to 20 minutes at a time and allow
your skin to return to normal temperature in between icing.
An elastic bandage wrapped firmly around an injury can
further prevent swelling and ease pain by keeping the area somewhat
immobilized. The bandage doesn’t necessarily always keep you from moving, but
it can remind you to keep from moving it. If a wrapping causes tingling or
numbness in the extremity, remove it and rewrap the area more loosely. The
bandage should not be so tight that it causes discomfort or interferes with
blood flow. Even gentle compression can help keep fluid away from the area of
Propping an injury above the level of your heart helps fluid
drain away from the injured area and reduces swelling. If you can’t elevate an
injured area to a level above the heart, try to keep it at the same level or
close to it. If, you suffered an injury to the buttocks or hips, try lying down
with a pillow or two below your buttocks or lower back to help lift the area of
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 the
injury occurred. Bruising will continue for the first few hours and can be
quite extreme by the next day, turning the entire area a deep purple or black.
The R.I.C.E. treatment method is appropriate for the first
48 to 72 hours after an injury. During this time, you should keep the area
wrapped with an elastic bandage if possible, elevate it when you can, and apply
ice every few hours. If pain is severe, an over-the-counter anti-inflammatory like
aspirin or ibuprofen can help. Acetaminophen is effective for pain and
fever but not for inflammation.
It’s important that during the first three days of a sports
injury you don’t apply heat to the area, as
heat can increase circulation and worsen swelling.
Three Days to a Week Later
Sports injuries usually enter the healing process after
about 72 hours. You will notice less pain, sometimes only noticing tenderness
when you move the joint or prod the area. Swelling will usually subside after
the first three days, and bruises will start to fade. The changing colors of
the bruise reflect the breakdown of blood that was trapped in the skin as a
result of the injury.
Once the swelling has gone down, you can begin to alternate
heat packs with ice. Applying heat will help circulate blood to the injured
area, which delivers oxygen and nutrients to help the healing process. Both ice
and heat can help with pain, and many trainers recommend alternating ice with
heat every few hours.
You can also remove the compression bandages and begin to
gently exercise the area. Start slowly with light stretches, 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 are
comfortable with normal use and exercise. Immobilization is bad for injured
parts of the body that are a few days old or more because it can cause
stiffness. You want to start moving the injured part, or walking with a normal
gait, as soon as possible after injury.
After a Month
The first few weeks are the most painful, but you may notice
some pain and tenderness for several weeks to a few months after an injury.
This is normal, and you can use heating pads or ice to relieve pain. Medicated
sports cream can also help with the discomfort. This type of cream is available
at almost any pharmacy.
After the first month, there should be no swelling and any
bruises will have faded away. If you notice swelling or discoloration after
four weeks, you should visit a doctor to make sure there are no additional
problems. Severe pain after the first few weeks is also reason to have the
injury further evaluated.
Continue to stretch and exercise the area even after the
symptoms have subsided. A muscle or joint that has been injured once is more
vulnerable to additional injuries. Exercise can reduce the risk of repeat
injuries. In addition, proper stretching and moderate exercise can help prevent
injuries of all kinds.
As long as the injury heals appropriately, you should be
able to return to your regular workout routines.