Jeremy Waite


News and advice

Basic injury recovery - First steps

The most important advice for any injury is that you should first seek professional advice to assess the extent of the injury. This is vital as the grade or extent of the injury will directly affect both the short and long term protocol for your injury recovery.

We shall look at the usual recommended plan in the immediate aftermath of an acute injury. An acute injury is one which has come on after a single impact or event on the body such as a sprained ankle after rolling over on it, or a strained muscle caused by over-loading. It is worth re-iterating that one should first seek medical advice to assess the extent of the injury. An assessment will reveal the grade of strain or sprain based on the amount of damaged fibres and resultant pain and loss of ability. The pacing and focus of any treatment will then be dependent on this grading.

The first 24-48 hours after an injury is known as the acute stage, and what is done here can greatly affect the speed with which an athlete recovers from injury. The main system of treatment at this stage is known as the RICE system or protocol.

The first reaction to an injury must be Rest – do not keep on working the area as this will only heighten the risk of worsening an injury and increasing the size of the damaged area. Dependent on the grading of the injury, any further activity is also likely to cause further pain.

Aside from pain, one of the first things noticeable in an injured area is swelling. In itself this is not bad, as the swelling is the body’s natural reaction to the damage and so should only be managed and not stopped. To manage this we use Ice which decreases the blood flow to the area as well as helping to control the swelling and, through the pain gate theory, also decreases any pain. (NB there are several contra-indications to the use of Ice such as circulatory and cardiac problems, severe diabetes, recent chemotherapy, age, cold hyper-sensitivity, Reynaud’s phenomena – if in doubt check with a professional).

Also useful in controlling the swelling is Compression (ie wrapping the area in a bandage) which physically controls the amount of swelling possible (NB be careful on the tightness of any bandages so as not to cut off circulation – again if in doubt seek professional advice).

The final element of treatment for this initial acute period is Elevation. When a limb has been injured, wherever possible try to elevate it above the level of the heart as this will also help control blood flow to and swelling in the area, thereby minimising the area which needs to be treated in the next part of the process – the sub-acute or repair stage.

To recap for the treatment of an acute injury in the first 24-48 hours, the main thought process should be to do no further damage, control the onset of pain and swelling, and lay the foundations for optimising the period of recovery:

  Rest - prevent any further injury
  Ice – control swelling and reduce pain
  Compression – constrict the injury to minimise swelling
  Elevation – decrease blood flow and therefore control swelling

In a future article we will look at the repair stage of injury recovery, addressing issues such as contrast bathing, mobilisation, functionality and the benefits of massage in injury recovery. (Injury recovery part 2, sub acute or repair stage)

Jeremy Waite works as a Sports Massage Therapist in Berkshire covering areas such as Streatley, Goring, Pangbourne, Wallingford and Reading.

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Providing sports and remedial massage as well as training and rehabilitation advice throughout Berkshire and especially to clients in Streatley, Goring, Wallingford, Pangbourne and Reading.

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