What to do after a Muscle Strain or Ligament Sprain?
Article by John Miller
Sprain or Strain?
If you suffer a soft tissue injury the best advice we can give you is to...
Seek Prompt Medical Advice!
The research is very conclusive. Early accurate assessment and prompt appropriate treatment is much better than delay. Plus, what may appear to be a simple muscle, ligament or soft tissue injury can include a hairline fracture, bone bruising or dislocation.
Prompt Treatment will Benefit You in many ways:
Early Management of a Soft Tissue Injury
During the time delay before you can seek a professional opinion, then follow the tips below:
Rest from painful exercise or a movement is essential in the early injury stage. We call this active rest. "No pain. No gain." does not apply in most cases. The rule of thumb is - don't do anything that reproduces your pain for the initial two or three days. After that, you need to get it moving or other problems will develop. If you are unsure what to do, please contact your physiotherapist for injury-specific advice.
Ice or Heat?
Ice is preferred for the initial two or three days post-injury. Apply ice for 20 minutes each two to three hours for the first few days until the "heat" comes out of the injury. Ice should also help to reduce your pain and swelling in traumatic soft tissue injuries, such as ligament sprains, muscle tears or bruising.
It is preferable to avoid heat (and heat rubs) in the first 48 hours of injury. The heat encourages bleeding, which could be detrimental if used too early. Once the "heat" has come out of your injury, heat packs can be used to stimulate blood flow. We recommend 20 minute applications a few times a day to increase the blood flow and hasten your healing rate. Heat will also help your muscles relax and ease your pain. Heat Wheat Packs are an excellent home solution for a multitude of conditions.
Should You Use a Compressive Bandage / Support?
Yes. If it is possible to apply a compressive bandage or elastic support to the injury, it will help to control swelling and bleeding in the first few days. In most cases, the bandage/support will also help to support the injury as the new scar tissue is laid down. This should help to reduce your pain.
Some injuries will benefit from more support such as a brace or rigid strapping tape. Please contact your physiotherapist if you are uncertain what is best for you.
Elevation of an injury in the first few days is very helpful. Think where your injury is and where your heart is. Gravity will encourage swelling to settle at the lowest point. Try to rest your injury above your heart. Obviously some injuries are impossible or it would be detrimental to elevate, so please use your common sense and be guided by your pain.
When Should You Commence Treatment?
In most cases, "the early bird gets the worm". Researchers have found that intervention of physiotherapy treatment for acute soft tissue injuries within a few days has many benefits.
Prompt Treatment Benefits include:
What If You Do Nothing?
Research tells us that injuries left untreated do take longer to heal and have lingering pain.
They are also more likely to recur and leave you with:
It's important to remember that symptoms lasting longer than three months become habitual and are much harder to solve. The sooner you get on top of your symptoms the better your outcome.
For professional advice that best suits your specific injury needs, please consult your physiotherapist.
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