Sudden onset of pain, often with knowledge of what may have caused the injury, is referred to as acute pain. These injuries can occur due to sport injuries (sprained ankle or pulled hamstring), improper mechanics when lifting (strained back), or a fall (fractured wrist), or many other mechanisms of injury. Although the acute phase of healing is a natural part of the healing process, excessive swelling or improper care can slow the later phases of healing. The acute phase typically lasts 48-72 hours. During that time, you can minimise extent of further injury by completing a few steps at home.
- Rest - protect the area; do not bear weight if it feels uncomfortable; do not move it suddenly or excessively. If you have continued difficulty slowly moving the affected joint(s), it may be best to visit the emergency room to have an x-ray, or be fitted for a splint or brace.
- Ice - it is necessary to cool the area sufficiently, to limit the amount of swelling and blood flow into the injured area; use an ice pack, crushed ice, or frozen vegetables over the area, but ensure to protect the skin with a damp towel, or light covering (paper towel or pillow case). Ice for around 12 minutes. Allow the tissue to rewarm to body temperature (at least 45 minutes), then repeat the ice regularly throughout the first 2-3 days.
- Compression - to minimise swelling of the injured area, you should provide light pressure, or maintain the compression over the area immediately after the injury, for example, if you sprain your ankle playing basketball, leave the shoe and sock on for the first couple of hours while you ice the ankle. The first few days following a joint injury, lightly wrap the area with a compression/tensor bandage, ensuring not to completely disrupt blood flow (extremities should remain light pink with normal temperature and sensation).
- Elevation - again, to decrease the opportunity for the area to swell, it is essential to raise the injured area above waist, and ideally chest height. As the area swells, if it is below the level of the heart, it becomes increasingly difficult for the venous and lymphatic system to overcome the force of gravity, and it will cause excessive swelling.
If you have excessive swelling, redness or pain, it is important to receive medical attention as soon as possible to rule out severe injury or fracture. You may also wish to consult your family doctor or pharmacist to receive information on the use of anti-inflammatory medications. It is beneficial to seek assistance in recovering from an acute injury, particularly within the first 3-5 days after the injury occurs. Your physiotherapist will continue to work with the physicians and other medical professionals to ensure a proper diagnosis of the injury, and determine an appropriate treatment plan to promote healing and, eventually, a return to previous function.