Acute Sport Injuries

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Written by: Dr. Trevor Hall, MD, CCFP, Dip. Sport Med

How Do You Treat ACUTE Injuries?

Acute injuries are common in sports and exercise, and are often traumatic in nature. Successful treatment of acute injuries depends on many factors which you can find out about below…

What is an Acute Injury?

“Acute” sports injuries are those that have occurred recently, usually defined as having occurred in the previous 48-72 hours. Examples of acute injuries include tendon strains, ligament sprains, muscle strains, muscle contusions and bone fractures. Most acute injuries heal better when treated early (within the first few days of being injured). One such factor includes the “acuteness” of the injury and how quickly an injury is treated.

How are Acute Injuries Treated?

In general, any acute injury should be treated with the “RICE” principles (Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation). Rest in sports medicine may range from doing a different non-painful activity to using crutches depending upon the severity and type of injury. Icing is very important with acute injuries as ice helps to decrease swelling and inflammation. NEVER use heat for an acute injury (heat will increase inflammation and swelling). Ice should be applied for approximately 15 minutes at a time, every hour during the day if possible, with a towel or layer between the ice and skin to help prevent frostbite. Compression helps to control swelling and can usually be accomplished with a tensor bandage (very important for ankle sprains and muscle contusions). Elevation helps to control swelling of the affected area.

Acute Treatment Example: Ankle Sprains

Ankle sprains usually rehabilitate faster with early intervention. An ankle sprain that is treated early (within the first 24 to 48 hours) usually heals faster than if there is a delay in treatment. Ankle sprain treatment consists of icing, compression, anti-inflammatory medication, physiotherapy and athletic therapy. These measures help to control swelling and pain, regain range of motion, and preserve strength and balance sense. This early treatment usually results in faster healing and earlier return to sport or activity. A moderately severe ankle sprain that has not been treated early often develops a “boggy” swelling that is a lot more difficult to resolve. Prolonged ankle swelling leads to more pain and slower return of range of motion and function (or participation in pre-injury sport or recreational pursuits).

Acute Treatment Example: Muscle Contusions

Another example involves deep thigh muscle contusions (deep bruising). These injuries can often lead to severe stiffness in the quadriceps muscle if not treated with compression and appropriate range of motion exercises in the early stages.

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Other Acute Injury Examples:

Some acute injuries require early intervention that cannot wait. An example would be an Achilles tendon rupture (“torn Achilles”) which sometimes requires surgery urgently but typically requires immobilization in a special heel-lifted Aircast boot. Another example would include certain finger tendon ruptures or tears, which may require surgical repair within a week or so after the injury.

How Does Physiotherapy Help Acute Injuries?

Physiotherapists are well-trained and are very knowledgeable in assessing and treating acute injuries. They can usually identify worrisome injuries and help you sort out the diagnosis and what to do. Physiotherapists are essential for treating most acute injuries as they help to decrease swelling, decrease pain and improve the mobility of the injured joint. As you start to improve, your physiotherapist will then progress you on strengthening, balance and functional exercises so that you can regain full athletic ability in a safe and rapid manner. You physiotherapist will give you expert guidance through the rehab process from the point where you are in severe pain all the way to the stage when you are getting back to your previous level of sport or activity.

When Should You See a Doctor for Your Acute Injury

Deciding whether or not an injury requires medical attention may be difficult. Some signs to look for that should prompt a visit to a physician include: rapid swelling, moderate or severe amount of swelling, inability to walk (if injury is to lower extremity), inability to move the joint in a full range of motion (e.g., not able to move shoulder around in a full circle, not able to fully bend or straighten a knee), extreme pain or pain at rest, and deformity of a limb. Even without any of these features, if an injury does not improve significantly after a couple of days of rest, or if an athlete is just very confused about what should be done, he or she should seek the advice of a physician who knows how to assess and treat sports injuries.

Early assessment and treatment of acute injuries is essential for fast healing and early and safe return to sport and activity.

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