Frustratingly, even the smallest movements can sometimes cause injury if we’re not careful, and most of us have at some point suffered from the pain, swelling and inflammation that comes with a muscle strain or sprain. Even an acute injury lasting a few days can put a dent on our daily routines or develop into a prolonged injury if not treated correctly. It’s important to start treating strains and sprains as soon as possible to prevent further damage and speed up the healing process.
A sprain is a stretching or tearing of ligaments, whereas a strain is a stretching or tearing of the muscles or tendons. An acute injury will occur when the tissues have become stretched beyond their level of elasticity. In order to recover quickly, here’s what to do in the first few hours:
Use R.I.C.E for strains and sprains
- Rest: if you are participating in an activity and feel a pain come on, stop. We know it can be tempting to push through and carry on, especially if you’re working towards a goal, but you could be making your injury much worse. Rest immediately by stopping what you’re doing, however it’s important to keep as mobile as is comfortable in order to aid the healing process. Little movement with gentle exercise will help to increase blood flow and prevent stiffness as your injury heals. Try to build up to your normal activity levels slowly and steadily, only when you feel you are able to do so comfortably.
- Ice: applying a cold pack to the injured area can help to reduce inflammation and soreness. Wrap plastic wrap or a thin tea towel around the pack before you apply it to avoid direct skin contact. Keep the pack on the area for around 10-15 minutes and repeat this several times in the day for the first 72 hours. Once the swelling has gone down after this time, you can alternate between ice and heat packs to help speed up recovery. Heat used before the first 3 days could worsen swelling.
- Compression: compressing the injury will help to prevent the build-up of fluids and reduce swelling, by keeping it partly immobilised. A compression band may also provide some support for the injured joint. However, the compress shouldn’t be too tight and you should remove it if you find that it’s reducing circulation or causes discomfort.
- Elevation: it’s helpful to elevate your injury above the level of your heart so that fluids can drain from the area to reduce swelling. If you can’t raise the area above your heart, try to keep it as close to that level as you can. For injury to your hips or glutes, lie down and place pillows underneath the area and your lower back to raise the injury.
Continue using the R.I.C.E. procedure for the first 48-72 hours after your injury.
If this doesn’t help, seek medical attention
You may want to take anti-inflammatories or painkillers to help manage pain and swelling, however if the pain can’t be controlled with painkillers or you experience the following symptoms you should seek medical attention:
- severe swelling or visible deformities, i.e. lumps or limbs bent in an unusual way
- you cannot support weight with the injured area
- instability in a joint
- popping or crunching sounds when moving the area
- paralysis or loss of sensation in the area
- trouble breathing or dizziness
If you’re unsure, you can call the NHS helpline 111 for advice.
For injuries that persist
Injuries lasting for more than a few days or chronic injuries which persist may cause a dull pain or ache, along with a tightness and loss of flexibility. Osteopathy can be used to identify the root problem or contributing areas to the injury. By helping to relieve tightness and stimulate blood flow, osteopathic techniques can also help to relieve pain and speed up healing time. Your osteopath will also be able to prescribe exercises to improve injury management over the long-term. To find out more or to book a consultation with one of our osteopaths, you can call 0121 585 8555 for our Halesowen practice, 01902 894 894 for Wombourne or fill out our contact form here.