When you get injured playing a sport, or anytime, the first 48 hours is the most important. This first phase of healing is called the acute phase; when blood rushes to the area to fix the problem. The body naturally experiences heat, pain, redness and swelling to protect itself. A change in colour and a stiff joint are also signs of injury. Chronic injuries are different than acute because they are nagging aches and pains that get worse over time. Both acute and chronic type injuries can be painful and prevent the body from healing.
“Pain is the body’s number one warning that something is wrong” ("Article of the Week."). Injuries can be painful and stop you from competing in your sport. Pain is from the inflammation and swelling in the injured area. You can experience it right away, like when you sprain your wrist (acute) or it can develop over time (chronic) like when your legs do not recover after a hard workout.
How you treat an injury can help you get rid of pain faster. P.R.I.C.E. is a way for you to remember what to do if you get injured. The letters stand for Protect, Rest, Ice, Compress, and Elevate. When you have a sprain to your ligaments, strain to your muscles or bangs that cause bruises follow these simple instructions to help stop the swelling.
Protect the area from further injury by first stopping what you are doing. As an athlete you will want to push through the pain but it is smarter to stop and find out what is truly wrong. Do not use pain as your guide when an injury first happens because the adrenalin of exercise often makes you ignore that you are hurt. Other ways to protect the area are braces and body position (ex: for a knee sprain, use crutches to take weight off your leg).
Pretty simple….if you are hurt your body needs to rest and heal. This gives time for the swelling to go down in the joint or muscle. You do not need to stop all activity though, in fact cross training other areas gets you back to playing sooner. If you hurt your shoulder spend time working on your cardio and leg muscles. Be smart with rest and modify exercise so you stay in the game.
Using ice will help slow down the blood flow to the injury. Less blood flow means less inflammation and less pain. Apply ice for up to 20 minutes 3-4 times a day for the first 48 hours. Do not apply heat or receive a massage during this time because it restarts the blood flow you just stopped.
Another way to prevent more swelling is compression. This also helps stop blood from moving into the area of injury. Athletic tape, a tensor wrap, and a neoprene sleeve are just a few ways you can do this.
When your injury is at your arm (shoulder/elbow/wrist) or leg (hip/knee/ankle/foot) it is best to elevate it. This redirects the blood from the area of injury to the heart and prevents more swelling.
What To Ice With
An ice pack system with a gelatine ice pack for the freezer, a cover to put it in, and an elastic Velcro strap make it easier to apply the P.R.I.C.E. technique ("Urban Freeflow: The Official Worldwide Parkour/Freerun Network."). An alternative to this fancy system is a bag full of crushed ice or frozen pees and a tensor wrap. Both do a great job of compressing the area and getting cold to the site.
How To Ice
When applying ice think about these stages you will feel: cold, burning, aching, numbness. If you feel the area is numb than the ice has been on long enough (usually 15-20 minutes). Put a towel over the wrap and/or the skin to prevent “ice burn” caused from icing irritation. You can remove the ice every 5 minutes to see how the joint is moving. Often you will be able to move your joint more as the pain is controlled using ice.
Hot versus Cold
Heat and ice are both helpful in healing your injury but they help in very different ways. Ice stops the blood flow to the area temporarily so the swelling and pain can decrease. Heat increases blood flow to the area so healthy blood can get there sooner. The key is when to use either ice, heat, or both. During the first 48 hours ice is best. After 48 to 72 hours heat can be applied but actually a treatment of ice and cold is best. For example, with an ankle sprain you can alternate hot for 1 minute and cold for 1 minute (contrast bath). This technique helps flush stale inflammatory fluids from the area and bring in nutrient-rich fluids. After a week from a mild injury heat is fine but often you will need to ice the area after practice because it may get swollen with activity.
The P.R.I.C.E. technique is a great way to use immediate medical attention when a less serious injury has happened. The use of protection, rest, ice, compression, and elevation is most effective for acute injuries but can also be used for chronic ones. Alternating hot and cold is another technique used later after an injury. Remember if the injury seems more serious seek medical attention. If you hurt your head, neck or back seek medical attention immediately. Be smart and quick with your treatment and you will get back into action soon.
"Article of the Week." 6/13/2008 <http://www.tinajuanfitness.info/articles/110904.htm>.
"Urban Freeflow: The Official Worldwide Parkour/Freerun Network." 6/13/2008 <http://www.urbanfreeflow.com/deep_end/injury_the_acute_phase/index.htm>.
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