For many of you, the summer break means relaxing and perhaps doing less sport. Now that you are back at Uni and doing familiar, and in some cases, new sports, your fitness and agility are being challenged. If that results in joint, muscle or ligament injury, it can mean not only pain and swelling, it might mean time away from the sport, and the socialising that goes with it. So what do you do when you’re injured? When and where should you seek help?
Here are the basics.
The first 24 hours after injury: PRICE principles
PRICE stands for Protection, Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation.
These principles guide care of joint, muscle and ligament injury.
Protection: Stop the activity which caused injury. Immediately post injury you should avoid excessive and painful movement. Use support such as taping, bracing, splints or crutches as needed.
Rest/relative rest: Give the injury time to heal by taking load off it
Ice: use for at least 10 minutes (but no longer than 20 minutes). Time between icing should be guided by pain, but can be less than 2 hours between applications. Take care not to give yourself an ice burn.
Compression: If there is swelling, you can apply compression with a bandage or tubigrip. Don’t use high levels of compression with elevation unless advised to do so by a Doctor.
Elevation: in most cases, this can help. To elevate, you bring the injured body part above the level of the heart, e.g. resting with leg up and well supported if ankle is swollen. It is important to slowly lower the injured and elevated body part when bringing it back towards the ground.
Though perhaps tempting to dull pain with alcohol, it’s best avoided, as it slows recovery. It may lead you to use the injured area more than you should.
After the acute phase of injury (i.e. once the injury starts to subside), you need to progressively load the injured part. For example, after an ankle sprain where there is no fracture, it is important to gently start walking as normally as you can for short distances when you feel you are able and pain has subsided a little.
When to seek help
Seek help immediately if there is
• severe pain and/or deformity
• joint dislocation
• concussion/head injury
• bone fracture
• significant bleeding/skin and tissue trauma
• severe pins and needles, numbness unexplained muscle weakness
For these significant injuries, attend a nearby hospital Accident and Emergency department.
Seek help from a GP or Physio if there is
• Ongoing severe, persistent pain and swelling which is failing to respond to PRICE after 48 hours
• Ongoing swelling
• Loss of range of movement (e.g. can’t lift arm fully or take weight on foot and ankle) strength and joint stability
• If you are unable to continue to do normal activities and sport due to your injury
Physiotherapists help reduce pain and dysfunction through using manual techniques and exercises. The sooner you seek help, the better the health professionals can help you get back to your best. If you don’t follow through on treatment, injuries can become recurrent, meaning more time on the side lines and away from the great social and health benefits sport brings. It might impact your studies too.
If you are worried that you will be told to stop sport and exercise, be assured that your physio or GP can help you consider options to reduce impact on the injured area and maintain your fitness.
Old and recurrent injuries
If you have an old injury that’s recurrent, or an injury from overuse, that can be managed too. It’s normal to feel the occasional ache or pain after trying a new activity or returning to sport after a break, but symptoms that persist or recur are usually a sign that your body is not working at its best. Physios are experts in body mechanics, and can help you understand the cause of the pain and manage it. They work closely with Student Health to manage medical issues and investigations if required.
See here for more on Physiotherapy at University of Bristol