Its back to school time which means summer is drawing to a close, the leaves are turning brown and the wasps are out in force trying to get their hands on those tasty school lunches. With the beginning of the new school year also comes the beginning of the new sports season. Kids all across the country are digging out their trainers, boots, hockey sticks and footballs as they march to PE and afterschool training sessions.
Unfortunately, with all this excitement there can be set-backs as injury is as much a part of sport as winning and losing. Like learning how to take a difficult defeat on the chin and pick ourselves up again, we must learn what to do in the early stages of a new injuries to best manage it going forward and prevent complications. Here are our top five tips to help you manage those unwanted niggles to help you get back on your feet as soon as possible.
1. Practice good hygiene
Quite often we take for granted all those little cuts, grazes and burns that arise during sports. This is particularly problematic on astro-turf pitches, like those little black pieces of rubber that get into your socks and collect in the household washing machine! It is important to wash out any cuts or grazes that you may get from playing sports as they can become infected. Wash your hand thoroughly before attending to your war-wounds and try keep the area as clean as possible. Remove any excess dirt and cover the area in protective bandages. Gloves can be worn during this process but you must ensure that there are no allergies to the materials they are made of, such as natural latex. Topical creams and anti-septics can be used to help prevent infections in certain skin wounds, however, if in doubt attend your local pharmacy or GP for advice on more advanced wound care.
2. Protect the area of injury from additional damage
Following a fresh injury quite often you will be in quite a bit of discomfort. Pain is the primary way that your body protects itself by making it uncomfortable to carry on while injured, forcing you to rest up and recover. In very serious injury where there is clear deformity and an inability to weight bear, the best strategy is to seek professional help immediately at a local minor injury unit or emergency department. For those less serious injuries such as minor ankle sprains or muscle injuries, you can start protecting the area by reducing the amount of weight you put through the limb. Bracing your ankle with a semi-rigid support has been shown to be very effective, especially over the initial 6 weeks. Compression and elevation can also help with the early swelling management and reduce pain in the early stages. Some people like to use light compression supports such as neoprene sleeves, which won’t give you additional stability but can help improve your comfort at the injury site.
3. Try and dull those aches and pains
Pain can be quite problematic in the early stages of an injury. One of the most important things to do with any injury is to move! Movement helps reduce tissue swelling and this makes the nerve endings less sensitive. The best approach is to move the area gently and very regularly. Try 10 movements every hour, especially when you are sitting or lying off your feet. Ice and compression can also be helpful in the early stages of an injury to reduce swelling and pain. Apply ice in an on and off again fashion in 5-10 minute exposures and make sure you cover your skin from the ice to prevent burns. Over the counter medications do play a role in early stage pain management and the best practice is to consult with your local pharmacist while making a purchase to ensure safe use of these drugs.
4. Stay active and keep moving
The best approach with any injury is to never totally stop and avoid all activity. Rest is critical to the healing process, especially in the early stages if injury, however, light movements and exercises can also be beneficial to reduce stiffness, swelling and pain. Light unloaded exercises such as cycling or getting into a pool can help keep our bodies moving while keeping the injury site stress free. The best approach to any rehabilitation programme is an active approach. Even showing your face at training can have benefits such as social motivation and peer support. And our top tip during rehab is to keep a ball at hand! Giving your sports star a ball usually makes them feel whole again especially during their rehab!
5. When in doubt check them out!
Our final tip is to seek professional help with all injuries that are beyond your routine ankle sprains or muscle strains. With more serious injuries seek immediate professional care such as an emergency department or acute injury clinic. With milder injuries, such as those routine ankle sprains, the general advice is to try and self-manage the injury using the above steps. Try get the swelling and pain down and then go for a review with your local GP or physiotherapist after the first 48 hours for an assessment if you feel that the injury requires a check. Quite often peace of mind is the best treatment in the early stages of a new injury.