There is a plethora of information out there from reliable sources like your Doctor to old wives tales from your know-it-all neighbor down the street. It can be confusing to hear one person recommend ice while another will suggest using heat. So what is an injured athlete to do? Here's a run down of what to do if you've been benched because of an injury.
There are two types of injuries, actue and chronic. Acute injuries are those you have incurred within the last 48 hours. These are your typical sprains, strains, pulls and bruises. Acute injuries tend to have a lot of swelling when the tissue is damaged and possibly bleeds internally. Chronic injuries are those nagging aches and pains that you've been dealing with for weeks if not years. This include arthritis and overuse injuries like carpel tunnel, tendonitis and shin splints, just to name a few.
For Acute Injuries:
First and foremost, stop. Whatever you're doing; running, playing tennis, lifting weights, just stop. By continuing the activity trying to "work through the pain" you will only make it worse. Ignoring the problem won't make it go away and it certainly won't just heal on it's own. "No pain, no gain" is not a mantra to live by and is truly a fitness myth. When soft tissue is damaged it swells. The swelling causes pain and a decrease in motion which limits the use of the muscles. Continuing the activity after incurring the injury will increase the swelling and the pain, causing more damage and a longer recovery time.
Next is R.I.C.E. (Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation). Resting the injury will give your body the appropriate time it needs to heal, without re-injury causing the acute injury to become a chronic injury. Using ice will help to reduce the initial swelling which will help to reduce the pain. Never use heat on an acute injury, as heat will induce swelling and inflammation, not reduce it. Compression by using tape or a wrap will help to keep swelling to a minimum and offer additional structural support to the injured body part. Finally, elevating the injury keeping it above heart level will continue to reduce swelling as well.
A few days of using R.I.C.E should help your body heal and ready to start training again. You'll want to take it easy and start with corrective exercise and stabilization training (phase 1 and 2) in the NASM OPT Model, no matter what stage of training you were in when you were injured.
For Chronic Injuries:
Chronic injuries tend to have a lot of built up scar tissue that immobilizes the joint and decreases the contraction of the muscle, which combined, decreases function and performance. By using heat prior to the activity, it will help to relax and loosen the tissues and increase blood flow to the area. Using ice afterward will help reduce the pain and swelling, just like an acute injury.
By following the guidelines in corrective exercise and stabilization training when you begin working out, you can "re-train" your body to work efficiently, minimizing the flare up of a chronic injury.
Here is a quick guide on what to do and when:
|Ice or Heat?|
|When To Use||Use ice after an acute injury, such as an ankle sprain, or after activities that irritate a chronic injury, such as shinsplints.||Use heat before activities that irritate chronic injuries such as muscle strains. Heat can help loosen tissues and relax injured areas.|
|How To Do It||Read through the information on how to ice an injury. There are several ways to ice an injury.||Heating pads or hot wet towels are both excellent methods. Place a washcloth under hot tap water and then apply to the injured area.|
|For How Long||Apply ice treatments for no longer than 20 minutes at a time. Too much ice can do harm, even cause frostbite; more ice application does not mean more relief.||It is not necessary to apply a heat treatment for more than about 20 minutes at a time. Never apply heat while sleeping.|
The information in this article is not a substitute for medical advice. If you have incurred a sports injury, please see your Doctor for a proper diagnosis and an appropriate treatment plan.