Seunga (Jasmine) Han, PharmD Student
In this day and age, more and more people are becoming involved in sports activities and various exercise programs as they become more health conscious. While they provide many health benefits, sports and exercise can also cause injuries.
Sports-related injuries can vary in severity and can be caused by many reasons such as trauma, overuse of muscles or joints, and environmental factors (e.g. heat stroke). So, it’s important to take preventative measures to prevent future injuries. These include warm-up exercises, stretching and cooling down before stopping your activity.
But again, even with appropriate measures, sports-related injuries can happen. The question becomes, how do you treat them?
Treating soft-tissue injuries
You may have heard this acronym before – RICE.
Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation are the four keys to early management of soft-tissue injuries.
REST: It’s crucial to rest and keep the area of injury immobilized within the first 24 hours to avoid aggravating the injury.
ICE: Applying cold to the area of injury limits the swelling by reducing blood flow to the area. You can use ice bags, cold gel packs, or even frozen peas to apply cold. It’s recommended that you apply cold for 10-30 minutes every few hours. To prevent frostbite and improve tolerability, you can use a thin towel between the ice bag and skin.
COMPRESSION: Along with icing, using elasticized bandage for the first 24 hours can reduce swelling, support a weak joint, or provide a protective layer for wounds.
ELEVATATION: Lastly, keep your injured area above the heart level to help drain fluid and reduce swelling.
Heat vs Cold
We mentioned earlier that applying cold is one of the 4 essential elements to treating soft-tissue injury. You may be wondering when heat therapy comes into play?
Heat therapy is recommended after the first 48 hours when the swelling has subsided and during the rehabilitation process.
Heat therapy acts like an analgesic by reducing the incidence of painful muscle spasms and reducing joint stiffness. Additionally, heat application causes your blood vessels to dilate, meaning there is an increased blood flow. This will increase the supply of nutrients, oxygen, and white blood cells to assist in recovery.
You can apply heat for 20-30 minutes every 2-4 hours, using hot water bottles, electric heating pads, or commercial heat packs. Just like cold therapy, take appropriate measures to avoid burns from using various heat therapy products. Additionally, be cautious to not use heat therapy in those with impaired skin sensitivity, poor circulation or open wounds.
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