Helping your body heal in the first few days after injury
Our bodies know exactly how to heal
They do this all the time, automatically without us having to do a thing. But there are some things we can do to help boost the healing process and encourage a quicker recovery.
The strategies to use differ slightly depending on what you’ve done but there are some fundamentals that apply in all situations.
We are trying to restore
normal function (able to do all our normal activities again)
We will look at these first then cover specific tips to help with a sprain, muscle strain or joint flare up.
Getting it moving safely
To get our strength and function back we must focus on getting the area moving normally as soon as possible when symptoms arise.
The important thing to remember here is to move the area slowly, in a controlled way so you don’t take it further than it wants to go.
Do this as far as comfortable a few times in each direction.
The key here is to repeat this lots of times in the first few days, aiming to gently work up to full movement again.
Think every 15-20mins whilst you’re awake. It will take less than a minute to practice each time and you can use the time in between to apply some of the other strategies.
Here is a short video to show you how to get your knee or ankle moving gently when it’s painful.
So many people I meet are reluctant to take pain relief because they don’t like taking tablets or because they tell me they have a high pain threshold. But in the first few days when acute symptoms arise, pain relief can be really useful if pain is restricting your movement.
We know that getting moving in the early stages can help to speed up recovery. People that have surgery in hospital are encouraged to walk as soon as possible afterwards because there is so much scientific evidence to support this. Even after a big surgery like a knee replacement, most stand and walk on it the next day.
Paracetamol is cheap, easily available from pharmacies and can be really helpful in the first few days to help reduce your level of pain.
Ibuprofen is an anti-inflammatory which can help reduce swelling but after an acute injury, it is best not to take it for the first 48 hours because it may slow down healing (the first stage of the healing process in an inflammatory response – we need this response initially to help our healing. By suppressing it with anti-inflammatories it may slow down healing).
If you really don’t like taking tablets and your movement is restricted by pain, you could try pain relieving gel or some of the other strategies below to help reduce your pain and get it moving.
Natural alternative – Arnica
For those of you who would prefer a more natural option, Arnica is a herb that is commonly used topically in creams, gels or oils to help reduce bruising, aches and pains. It can be taken orally too as a homeopathic remedy.
It is commonly used post surgery and post injury across the world and offers an alternative to conventional painkillers or anti-inflammatories. You may find it helpful. Just remember not to apply it on broken skin.
Remember, normal movement is the key. So whilst it might feel more comfortable to limp or not put your foot to the floor, it is really important for healing to load the area normally. Use a stick or crutches to help initially if you need but, unless you’ve been told specifically by a health professional not to put your full weight through the area, you need to be walking and standing with your foot flat to the floor as soon as possible, even if it means you get around more slowly for a few days. This stops other areas becoming painful, muscles becoming tight and weak and encourages the healing response of the body – all things you need to get back to normal as quickly as possible.
If you can’t take weight through the affected area I’d recommend seeking help to get an accurate diagnosis.
Full strength and getting back to your normal activities will follow gradually as you get your movement back and your symptoms settle.
How do I know if I have a sprain?
A sprain occurs when you wrench or twist the ligaments of a joint. You’ll have pain and swelling but no dislocation. You’ll usually know of the specific event when the sprain occurred such as rolling your ankle.
What can I to do to help in the first few days?
Experts recommend following the P.R.I.C.E protocol for the first 24-72 hours.
P – Protection
Protect the area from further harm by stopping the activity that caused it and avoiding any exercise or activity that aggravates it. Temporary use of walking poles, stick or crutches can help with a back or leg injury and a sling or support can help joints of arms and legs. Taping can be useful too if applied correctly.
R – Rest
Relative rest is important here. As mentioned above, gentle movement exercises can help the healing process but anything that aggravates the symptoms (pain, swelling, heat) need to be avoided initially as this could damage the area further, slowing down the healing.
I – Ice
Using an ice pack (or frozen veg wrapped in tea towel) can help reduce heat and swelling. Apply for up to 20 minutes every 2-3 hours. Make sure there is a layer between the ice pack and your skin to avoid an ice burn.
C – Compression
An elasticated bandage or support can be applied to the area to help support it and reduce swelling. Make sure there is some give left in the bandage to allow extra room if swelling increases so you don’t cut off your circulation.
E – Elevation
Helps to reduce swelling. Aim to have the area elevated on a pillow for a lot of the time in between your gentle movements. For a leg, having the area slightly higher than hips is best if comfortable and for an arm, have the area a little higher than your heart.
Arnica – Using Arnica may be helpful too to reduce bruising, aches and pains. Please contact me for a session online or face to face if you need any more help or support.
How do I know if I have a strain?
A strain occurs when you twist or pull a muscle or tendon (the bit that attaches the muscle to bone). It can be due to over stretching or overloading it. You’ll have pain, weakness and muscle spasm and usually know when it occurred such as lifting something awkwardly.
What can I to do to help in the first few days?
Follow the P.R.I.C.E protocol as above, remember to avoid anything that may overload or overstretch the area.
Can often be soothing when you have muscle spasm. Try using a wheat bag or hot water bottle. Heat rubs and creams can be useful too but they’re often not as soothing as using heat pack (they don’t feel like they penetrate as deeply to most people). There are also handy stick on heat pads that you can apply to your skin or clothing – just make sure you read the label as if you put the one meant for your clothes on your skin it can burn. Remember, If you’re not sure whether to use heat or ice, do whichever feels best to your body.
May be helpful in reducing bruising, aches and pains.
Can help muscles to relax and can be applied as a topical gel or using Epsom Salts in a bath
Flare up (inflammatory flare up of joint with Osteoarthritis)
How do I know if I have a flare up?
Sometimes joints can become hot, swollen and painful, with reduced movement without injuring the area. The important thing to rule out here is an infection and if you’re not sure, please see a medical professional.
Once you know it’s not an infection it could be an inflammatory flare up if you have osteoarthritis in your joint.
What can I do to help in the first few days?
Keep the joint moving gently
Use heat to help soothe the pain (or ice if it is more soothing) – usually arthritic joints prefer the feeling of warmth than cold
Applying Arnica gel has been shown to reduce pain and stiffness in an arthritic joint
Take pain relief if needed
Stop any strenuous activities and try and avoid anything that aggravates your symptoms
Other Factors to Consider
So now you know what to do in the first few days when you’re symptoms come on. Sometimes, when we have pain, lots of emotions can arise.
I invite you to take note of your inner voice. What is it saying?
It is common for frustration, anger and guilt to arise when we are not able to complete our normal activities such as walking around, going to work, training or caring for family members. It can be really difficult to slow down and ask for help.
If you notice these or similar feelings arising, I encourage you to take a slow, deep breath in and congratulate yourself for noticing them. Give yourself permission to feel this way and know that by not stuffing the feelings down or distracting yourself from it, it will pass and not be stored in your body. Feelings are just biochemicals in our blood stream.
Just take a few moments to notice how it makes your body feel. Is there heat? Or tingling? A buzzing energy? A knot in your stomach? Ask yourself, what’s here for me?
And then thank your body for the healing it is already doing. Just taking these few minutes when you feel stressed, frustrated or angry will help to activate your parasympathetic nervous system which is responsible for the healing response of your body.
Our bodies don’t heal if they’re in fight, flight or freeze response as the sympathetic nervous system is activated.
What helps you to relax?
Take some time to nurture your body and do something relaxing to help your body’s healing process.
Seek help – if you’re not sure what’s going on so you can get a diagnosis and know how best to manage it.
Stop anything that may cause further harm.
Concentrate on regaining movement by moving the area gently regularly.
Try to stay relaxed and use the strategies above to encourage your body’s healing.
Remember your body knows how to heal – these easy strategies can help to support the healing process for a quicker recovery.