Sports Injury Treaments (cont.)

What happens to the tissues after an acute injury?

When a runner "pulls a groin" or a tennis player "strains a tendon," the soft tissues in the area of pain are injured. Immediately after the injury, there are disrupted fibers of the affected muscle, tendon, and/or ligament. Additionally, the tiny blood vessels (capillaries) that normally supply blood and oxygen to these tissues are broken. The broken capillaries then leak varying amounts of blood and serum into the adjacent tissues. Therefore, soon after a soft tissue injury, localized swelling occurs. The injured tissues become painful and tender, both directly from the trauma to them and indirectly from the subsequent swelling. This leads to the stiffness, pain, and tenderness that so often accompany the inflammation of tendinitis, bursitis, as well as strain and sprain injuries. It should also be noted that even a bone injury (such as a fracture) is typically accompanied by injury to the nearby soft tissues.

So, what is best applied after the injury?

In a word, ICE.

The swelling and much of the inflammation that follows an injury is largely due to the leakage of blood from the ruptured capillaries. Therefore, cold applications with ice can help by causing the blood vessels to constrict (clamp down). This constriction of the blood vessels prevents further leakage of blood and serum and minimizes swelling and pain. The cold from an ice pack application also has an added benefit of providing pain relief.

In fact, the optimal management of an acute injury can easily be remembered using the acronym, RICE:

  • Rest (minimize movement of the injured body part)
  • Ice (apply a cold pack)
  • Compression (light pressure wrap to the affected body part can help minimize leakage of blood and swelling)
  • Elevation (raise the body part up so that the pressure from the blood and tissue swelling the affected area is reduced as the fluids drain from the area by gravity)

The Benefits of Ice and Heat Therapy

Both heat and cold therapies have been used to help alleviate pain resulting from sports injuries, and both have their role in treatment and rehabilitation.

In general, application of cold packs or ice has the following effects:

  • Reduces swelling following a traumatic injury
  • Reduces inflammation
  • Produces a numbing effect than can reduce pain
  • Decreases blood flow to an area
  • Decreases muscle spasms
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 12/1/2014