There are a variety of conservative treatments that are relatively common when treating acute and chronic injuries. These treatments aim to reduce further damage, reduce pain and inflammation, and encourage the healing process. The most common treatment for sprains, strains, and joint injuries—which can be done immediately—is called the RICE method. RICE is an acronym that stands for
- Rest – Rest the injured area for at least 48-72 hours.
- Ice – Routinely apply an ice pack to the injured area for 10-20 minutes at a time with breaks in between. Be sure to place a barrier, such as a towel, between the ice pack and the skin to prevent burning the skin.
- Compression – To reduce swelling and restrict movement, apply compression by wrapping the area of injury with an elastic bandage that extends a little bit above and below the site.
- Elevation – Elevating the injured limb and resting it at a comfortable level helps to reduce swelling.
Injured tissues must be protected from further damage. If you sustain an injury, immediately stop the activity—continuing can cause more harm. Ultimately, the kind of treatment you need will depend on the type and severity of the injury.
Other options that physicians may choose to treat a sports injury include:
- NSAIDs – such as ibuprofen to help reduce pain and inflammation. Acetaminophen can help with pain, but it does not relieve swelling.
- Immobilization – is frequently used to prevent further damage. Casts, splints, slings and leg immobilizers are used to immobilize injuries.
- Physical therapy – helps the affected area return to a normal level of functioning. Consists of a variety of strengthening and stretching exercises to improve range of motion and help decrease pain.
- Surgery – some sports injuries are severe enough to warrant this option. Surgery can fix torn ligaments, tendons or broken bones.
- Other methods – massage therapy, cortisone shots, hot or cold therapy, electrical stimulation, ultrasound, physiotherapy, and hyperbaric oxygen therapy.
Healing time will vary from person to person depending on their overall wellness and type of injury. Allowing ample recovery time is vital. Returning to activity too soon can prolong the healing process. Over time, you can return to a low activity level and slowly work yourself back up to your prior level of function. In some cases, some people may not be able to return to their prior level of function.
When to Seek Medical Attention
Always see your doctor if pain persists past a few days as something that is perceived to be a minor injury could potentially be more severe. You should also seek medical attention if you experience any of the following:
- You cannot move the injured limb.
- You have a noticeable infection with a fever, pus, red streaks, or swollen lymph nodes.
- You experience persistent numbness, tingling or weakness in the affected area.
- You experience significant swelling in a joint.
- Pain radiates to another area of your body.
- You have an injury that gets worse over time.
- You cannot bear weight on the affected limb.
- The injury causes severe pain.
- The injury has not healed after a couple of weeks.
If you don’t have any of these signs, it may be safe to treat the injury at home using the RICE method.
For severe injuries, as in the case of dislocation or fracture, protect the affected limb by immobilizing it with a pad, splint or crutch and seek immediate medical attention.
While physical activity is an essential part of maintaining overall wellness, certain steps should be taken to prevent or minimize the risk of injury. Below are a few key tips:
- Warm up before participating in the activity. While there have been some recent suggestions that this may not actually be necessary, common sense would dictate that it is a good idea to get your muscles moving before engaging in physical activity.
- Stretch regularly. Stretching helps to prevent muscles from getting tight and short and improves
- Use a graded exercise program to work yourself into shape slowly. Going full force into an exercise routine or sport without proper conditioning significantly increases the likelihood of injury. Start slow and gradually increase the intensity each week or as tolerated.
- Stay hydrated. Proper hydration is essential in helping to prevent strains, cramping and muscle spasms.
- Use proper equipment. It is especially important to have supportive, well-fitted Some activities may require safety gear to protect vital areas. It is also recommended that anyone with back, knee or ankle problems should don a brace or support equipment to prevent further injury.
- Even if you are athletically conditioned, you should not overdo it. As previously covered, overuse is a primary cause of most injuries. Make sure to regularly give your body a rest, and alternate hard sessions with easier ones.
- Use good technique. If you are unsure if you have good technique, it is a good idea to enlist the help of a professional for instructional purposes.
- Maintain a good level of overall fitness.
- Obtain a yearly health exam. Your exam may reveal health issues that you might not have been aware of; these can sometimes affect your ability to perform certain
- Listen to your body and back off at the first signs of pain or discomfort. “No pain, no gain” is a myth. Pain tells you that you need to lay off and try something different.
Forcing yourself to continue through pain can do serious harm and potentially cause long-term effects.