How to treat sports-related injuries quickly,effectively

Sports Medicine: If you suffer a sprain, strain or muscle tear, immediate first aid can prevent complications and help you heal faster.

December 17, 2010 03:47
4 minute read.
Yonatan Kaplan

Yonatan Kaplan headshot. (photo credit: Courtesy)

If you suffer an injury such as a sprain, strain or muscle tear, immediate first aid can prevent complications and help you heal faster.

When an injury occurs, the damaged area may bruise, swell or bleed – externally or internally – and become inflamed. Healing occurs as the damaged tissue is replaced by collagen, better known as scar tissue. In most cases, the tissue must be completely repaired before you can return to sports.

One of the most important acronyms to remember if you suffer a sports injury is PRICE-M: Protect, rest, ice, compression, elevation and medication.

Using these six immediate first-aid measures can relieve pain, limit swelling and protect the injured tissue, all of which speed up the healing process.

PProtect the area from further injury. Leave the field using an appropriate method of transport to prevent further damage. Seek medical assistance.

If you move the injured body part, it will increase blood flow to the injury site, which may cause the blood clot to dislodge, and too much bleeding may cause even more tissue damage.

RRest only from activities that aggravate the condition. The first 24- 48 hours after the injury is considered a critical treatment period, and activities must to be curtailed. Resting is important immediately after injury for two reasons. First, it is vital to protect the injured muscle, tendon, ligament or other tissue from further injury. Second, your body needs to rest so it has the energy to heal most effectively.

But total rest is poor treatment! Rest means continuing physical activity that does not aggravate the pathological condition, but at the same time ensures that you maintain general physiological conditioning while your injury heals.

IIce packs to limit pain and swelling. Cold packs, a plastic bag filled with crushed ice in a towel or even a bag of frozen peas should be applied to the injured area for 20 minutes at a time, four to eight times per day. An ice massage is another extremely effective way to direct cold to the injured tissue.

Cold provides short-term pain relief.

It also limits swelling by reducing blood flow to the injured area. Keep in mind, though, that you should never leave ice on an injury for more than 20 minutes at a time. Longer exposure can damage your skin.

CCompression of the injured body part. Compression helps limit and reduce swelling, which speeds up the healing process. Some people also experience pain relief from compression.

An easy way to compress the area of the injury is to wrap an ACE bandage, air cast or splint around the swollen part. The wrap should be snug, but should not cut off circulation to the extremity. If the wrap feels too tight, remove the bandage and re-wrap the area so the bandage is a little looser.

EElevation at or above your heart. For lower extremity injuries – such as a knee or ankle – elevating the injured body part reduces swelling. This is most effective when elevated at or above the level of your heart. For example, if you injure an ankle, try lying on your bed with your foot propped on one or two pillows.

MMedication and anti-inflammatory drugs. Medication should be administered by an expert due to possible contraindications or side effects.

In the first 48-72 hours following an injury, the following should be avoided:

H – Heat: Saunas, spas, hot water bottles, hot showers and baths can increase bleeding.

A – Alcohol: Alcoholic drinks can increase swelling.

R – Running: Running or exercising too soon can make the injury worse.

M – Massage: Massages or heat rubs increase swelling and bleeding, if they’re given within two to three days after the injury was sustained.

After a day or two of PRICE-M, many sprains, strains or other injuries will begin to heal. If your pain or swelling does not decrease after 48 hours, make an appointment to see your primary care physician or local sports physical therapist, depending upon the severity of your symptoms.

Once the healing process has begun, very light massage may improve the function of forming scar tissue, cut healing time and reduce the possibility of injury recurrence.

Gentle stretching can begin once all swelling has subsided. Try to work the entire range of motion of the injured joint or muscle, but be extremely careful not to force a stretch, or you may re-injure the area. Remember that a stretch should never cause pain.

Heat may be helpful once the injury moves out of the acute phase and swelling and bleeding has stopped.

Moist heat will increase blood supply to the damaged area and promote healing.

Finally, after the injury has healed, strengthening exercises can begin. Start with easy weights and use good form.

Yonatan Kaplan, PT PhD (Candidate), is the director of the Jerusalem Sports Medicine Institute at the Hebrew University’s Lerner Sports Center. He can be reached at or at (054) 463-9463.

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