Sometimes injuries happen at the most inopportune moments. As long as you are not in immediate danger and don’t suspect any serious injuries, such as a fracture or dislocation, there are some steps you should take in the initial stages of healing. Use the mnemonic “PRICE” as a way to treat low-risk injuries on your own until you’re able to see your doctor.
The first step is to protect the injured area from further damage. Using a brace, sling, splint, or crutches may be helpful immediately after an injury to prevent the injury from worsening. If you don’t have the equipment you need to protect yourself, see if you can create a makeshift protective device. For example, you can apply athletic tape to jammed finger to limit motion if you don’t have a brace.
Most people know that you should rest a muscle or joint when it is injured, but the key is not to overdo it with the rest. Studies show that prolonged rest can actually slow the healing process and increase the amount of time it takes to recover. This is because our tendons, ligaments, and muscles need to be placed under a certain amount of stress in order to heal properly. At the same time, it’s important not to do too much activity too quickly because this can also slow down the healing process. What you should aim for is “optimal loading.” Resting the injured area for 24-48 hours after an injury may be necessary, but after this time you should begin practicing gentle, pain-free exercises. For example, a great initial exercise for an ankle sprain is the Ankle Alphabet, where you gently move your foot and ankle around so that your ankle is “writing” the letters of the alphabet. If you are unsure of which activities are beneficial in the initial stages of healing, you can always contact our office to ask us for advice.
Ice can be helpful to reduce pain after an injury. In most cases it’s appropriate to apply ice to the injured area for 15-20 minutes at a time every 2-3 hours. Make sure you don’t apply ice directly to your skin. Wrap the ice or ice pack in a thin towel or t-shirt. Many people ask if they can apply heat to their injuries, however it’s a good idea to wait at least 48 hours before applying heat to the area. Heat can promote inflammation, and while some inflammation is important for healing, you don’t want to encourage too much of it.
For many injuries, compression is helpful to decrease swelling. Wrap the injured area with a compression bandage or athletic tape, being careful not to wrap too tightly. If you experience any numbness, tingling, or color changes in the body part you have wrapped, then you should loosen the bandage. You can leave the compression bandage on during the day, but make sure you take it off before going to bed.
Elevating the injured body part can help to drain excess fluid from the area and decrease pain. Ideally you want to rest the injured body apart above heart level. Use pillows to prop this area up when resting.
Please note that this advice should only be followed to treat low-risk injuries. If you have severe pain and swelling, or persistent pain that does not improve after a few days, please contact our office (or another healthcare provider) as soon as possible. If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to call or email us.