The first step is to decide whether this is something that needs immediate medial attention. It’s not easy to give clear rules about when to go to hospital, but if you suspect a serious injury or have any reason for concern, then take a trip to your local emergency department or contact NHS direct in the UK for advice. If the injury appears to be relatively minor, then read on.
The commonly recommended protocol for management of sports injuries is R.I.C.E., which stands for Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation. Although different procedures have been suggested, I prefer to keep to the original for simplicity. The important thing is to understand what each step involves and how to apply it correctly.
Rest: Stop what you are doing long enough to assess the problem and determine the best way of treating it. Often, sportspeople who sustain an injury in training will continue with their activity because in the heat of the moment, the pain is bearable. This may lead to more damage.
“Rest” doesn’t necessarily mean a prolonged period of total inactivity though. Once the injury has been identified and diagnosed, your doctor, osteopath or physiotherapist will be able to advise you on the best course of action. A few injuries may need a period of immobilization (such as fractures), but many will respond better to early mobilization to prevent stiffness.
Ice: Applying ice to an area reduces pain and tissue damage and keeps the amount of inflammation under control. It should be applied as early as possible, for around 20 minutes. This can be repeated every 2 hours for the first 2-3 days following the injury.
Ice should never be applied directly to the skin – wrap it in a damp tea-towel (or t-shirt) and particular care should be taken when using ice on the extremities (fingers and toes) to avoid frostbite. People with circulation problems should consult their doctor first.
Compression: Compression helps to limit inflammation, and may give some support to an injured joint. It needs to be tight, but important that circulation isn’t compromised. To check this, pinch a fingernail or toenail on the affected limb until it turns white. The normal colour should return within a few seconds. If not, then reduce the tightness of the bandage.
Elevation: Gravity tends to increase swelling in the extremities. By elevating a limb above the level of the heart, this helps to encourage circulation and reduce excessive inflammation.
Following this procedure for the first 2-3 days following an injury can make a big difference to the amount of pain and speed of recovery.
You need to have the right materials available when the injury happens. If you don’t have a freezer handy where you train, then consider getting a supply of chemical ice packs which can be stored until needed and then “activated” by popping an inner seal. Failing this, grab a bag of frozen peas from the local corner shop. Crepe or “cohesive bandages” can be bought online or from a local pharmacy, and either stocked in the gym or kept in your kit bag.
For individual advice on dealing with your injury, contact us.