Health Encyclopedia

Treating a Minor Sports Injury

If you have a twisted ankle, shin splints, or a strained muscle, when should you see your doctor? If you take care ofyour injuryyourself, what sort of treatment should you follow?

The first step toward recovery is to stop what you're doing. Trying to finish your tennis match or 5K run may make your injury worse. And, continued activity may increase your recovery time and turning a little problem into a big one.

Some injuries obviously need medical attention. Severe bleeding, obvious deformity in the joint or significant swelling and pain are signs of serious problems. Even injuries that feel like muscle pulls, strains, and sprains can turn out to be fractures. That's why it's best to get a diagnosis from your health care provider.

For minor injuries, your provider will likely recommend RICE. RICE stands for Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation. Doing these things can help limit pain and swelling after an injury. RICE also helps injuries heal faster. Use RICE for sprains, strains, and severe bruises or bumps. Follow these tips as soon as possible after an injury:

  • Rest. Pain is your body's way of telling you to rest an injured area. However,some light exercise can help you heal more quickly. Exercise keeps your muscles flexible and your joints moving smoothly.

  • Ice. Ice is a great pain reliever. It numbs the injured area and reduces swelling. This is most effective immediately after the injury. The longer you wait, the less it will help. Wrap a bag of crushed ice or small frozen vegetables, like peas, in a thin towel. Put the ice pack on the injured area for 20 minutes and then remove it for 20 minutes. Repeat this cycle every 20 minutes for up to 3 hours. If that's too uncomfortable, leave it on for 20 minutes once every hour. Continue as often as you feel comfortable over the next day or so. Don't leave the ice on for more than 20 minutes at a time.

  • Compression. Putting pressure (compression) on an injury helps prevent swelling and provides support.

    • Wrap the injured area with an elastic bandage. If your hand or foot tingles, changes color, or feels cold, the bandage may be too tight. Rewrap it more loosely.

    • If the bandage becomes loose, rewrap it

    • Don't wear an elastic bandage overnight.

  • Elevation. Keeping an injury elevated helps reduce swelling, Keep the injured part above the level of your heart. 

With RICE, you should see improvements within 24 to 36 hours. If your injury doesn't improve, call your health care provider.

Take these injuries to a doctor

Head injuries can be far more serious than they first appear. Any loss of consciousness, however brief, or having any symptoms resulting from the head injury that get worse rather than better, signals a need for medical attention.

Take care with possible internal injuries. Be especially careful if the kidneys or spleen is involved. The kidneys lie at the small of the back on either side of the spine. The spleen sits just below the rib cage on your left side. If you get hit in any of these areas and feel persistent pain, feel lightheaded, or see blood in your urine, see your health care provider immediately.

 



Medical Reviewers:

  • Akin, Louise, RN
  • MMI board-certified, academically-affiliated clinician