The Injury Process

That's my foot!

I had been intending to write about the injury process, NOT intending to GET  injured! On Friday I took my son for a hike. It was a gorgeous day and we returned to one of our favorite spots: Switzer Falls in the Angeles National Forest. About 30 feet into the hike I twisted my ankle jumping over some water. I couldn’t believe it. Fortunately it felt fine and we hiked around for about 3 hours. We had so much fun.

It wasn’t until I got home that I realized my ankle was hurting. It hadn’t hurt or felt injured at all during the hike. I was quite surprised and immediately went into injury treatment mode. Obviously this wasn’t a major sprain, but taking the following steps was really important in helping to minimize the damage.

R stands for REST. When you have an injury you must stop using the injured body part. When it’s the ankle that means stop putting weight on it. This is probably the hardest part, unless it’s hurting really, really badly. Then it’s easy.

I stands for ICE. Get ice on the injured part as soon as possible. It could be an ice pack, bag of ice, pack of peas or a cold stream. A good rule of thumb for ice is to use it for about 10-15 minutes with 20 minutes in between. When using ice packs, do not put them directly on the skin and don’t leave them on too long. You can burn your skin.

C stands for COMPRESSION. The body is sending lots of extra helpers to the injured area: fibroblasts to weave a scar over the injured structure, white blood cells to fight infection, chemicals that help manage pain, etc. Compressing the area helps keep inflammation in check. Too much inflammation can cause secondary problems. You can compress the injured body part with a piece of clothing (sock, shoe, t-shirt), a strip of cloth, towel, or the fabulous invention: the ACE bandage.

E stands for ELEVATION. Elevating the body part also helps to manage the huge influx of helper agents that the body is sending to the injured area. It helps the lymphatic system of the body clear out molecular debris caused in the injury.

Another common treatment for injury is taking anti-inflammatory medication or applying an anti-inflammatory creme. Of course, you know your body best in terms of administering any medications, so use common sense and follow the directions on the package. It never hurts to go to the doctor or urgent care clinic if you are concerned about how badly you’ve injured yourself. A trained professional can assess the degree of injury and rule out any complicating factors. An acute sprain can mask symptoms indicating a more serious injury like a fracture.

Next step is SLEEP! I don’t mean go directly to sleep, but remember that our amazing human bodies are designed to heal and restore during a good night’s sleep. It’s even more important when you are recovering from an injury. Our bodies accomplish a lot of repair during our sleep.

MASSAGE? Yes! Massage can be part of your recovery as well, after the acute stage of injury (roughly the first 24-48 hours). Massage can “reduce adhesions and influence the direction of new collagen fibers in the healing process. It can address edema and toxic accumulations from secondary muscle spasm. Massage will also help with stiffness from the temporary loss of joint function.” A Massage Therapist’s Guide to Pathology by Ruth Werner, Lippincott Williams & Wilkins 1998 p. 89. I know I felt my leg muscles could benefit from massage after icing and elevating for a couple of days.

Throughout your injury try to gently move the injured part through its regular range of motion as soon as you can without further hurting it. This gentle stretching and use is better than total immobilization because it encourages the body’s natural scar tissue to align properly with the muscle, tendon or ligament fibers and creates a stronger “patch” in the injured area.

Now I hope that not all of the topics I plan to write about actually happen to me personally. That might curtail my choice of topics drastically. Let me know if you have any questions about the injury process. Oh, and remember to warm up those ligaments before your next hike – I know I will!