One of the most common questions we are asked as Physios is 'What should I do after I hurt myself'? It is difficult to answer this question as there is no black and white answer, just a whole lot of grey!
The easy answer to this question and what is taught in most first aid courses is to use RICE (rest, ice, compression & elevation) and do no HARM (Heat, Alcohol, Rigorous exercise & Massage). As in all forms of science we are constantly challenging theories and recent research is starting to change the way we think about and treat injuries in the acute phase.
Our bodies generally do a good job of healing themselves, as Physios we aim to speed up and optimize this process. Keeping things simple, our bodies deal with an injury by sending inflammation, which contains the cells needed to repair an injury, to the damaged area. Some research of late is suggesting we shouldn't use RICE to minimise this inflammation we should rather aim at promoting 'good (inflammatory cells) in and bad (unnecessary cells) out ' from the injured tissue. This can be done by encouraging movement and muscle contraction in a safe manner.
Without complicating things the answer to the best post injury management really depends on what the injury is and what you want to achieve in the days following your injury. For most of us we don't fall in the elite athlete category but rather in the weekend warrior or desk jockey categories. The majority of us in this category initially want to reduce pain. This is best done by applying ice to the affected area and aiming to reduce the tissue temperature to 10 degrees Celsius. For a superficial injury such as an ankle sprain this requires about 5 minutes of ice contact, for deeper injuries longer. As a general rule 15 to 20 minutes of ice helps reduce the pain signals.
In summary, a good overall assessment of an injury is required to direct the best form of initial treatment. This is not always possible, so a simple rule to use in the first 48 to 72 hours after an injury is to use ice to reduce pain and try and keep the area as mobile as safely (pain free) possible.
The Gap Physio