Helping the recovery process

Things that should be avoided immediately following a sports injury (typically for the first two to three days) are summarised by the acronym HARM:1-3

  • Heat – for example, hot baths, saunas or heat packs as heat can increase bleeding
  • Alcohol – drinking alcohol can increase bleeding and swelling
  • Running – also increases blood flow and can delay healing
  • Massage – which may increase bleeding and swelling and delay healing

On the other hand, the measures that you should consider taking can be remembered by another acronym RICE:

  • Rest
  • Ice
  • Compression
  • Elevation

Rest – Allow the injury time to heal by giving the joint or muscle some rest. Do not try and be brave and play through injuries, it may cause further damage and the injury will take longer to get better.

Ice – Rather than applying any heat to the area, ice is preferred for the initial two to three days post-injury. Apply ice for 20 minutes wrapped in a damp towel every two hours for the first two to three days to reduce the inflammation.1-3 Ice can also help to reduce pain and swelling in soft tissue injuries. Try not to let it touch your skin directly, because it could cause a burn.

Compression – If it is possible to apply a firm elastic bandage or elastic support to the injury, it will help to control swelling in the first few days.

Elevation – If you can, keep the injured area raised above the level of your heart and supported (such as on a pillow) to help reduce swelling.

Relieving the pain of strains, sprains and other sports injuries

To relieve the pain associated with mild strains and sprains, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can be effective. Ibuprofen is an anti-inflammatory pain reliever. On top of relieving pain and fever, ibuprofen also helps relieve inflammation.  

The time a sports injury takes to heal depends on how severe it is. See your doctor if you’re worried about the injury for any reason, if the pain or swelling get worse, or if it hasn’t reduced significantly within a few days.

If you are ever in any doubt, always seek advice from a healthcare professional.