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DIY physio injury first-aid

Holidays are great opportunities to try new activities. Tennis. Hiking. Beach running. Surfing. But doing exercise you’re not used to can also heighten injury risk. Before you head off for a well-earned break, stash these physio first-aid tips in your luggage. 

Would you know what to do if you, say, rolled your ankle while running on that glorious white beach? Or playing tennis beside the campground? Or hiking to a breathtaking lookout?  While the going advice for immediate treatment of soft tissue injuries used to be R.I.C.E. or rest, ice, compression and elevation, the dominant thinking has changed. Modern recommendations follow the P.E.A.C.E. and L.O.V.E. protocols. 

What are the key differences between old and new physio first-aid advice for injuries such as sprains and strains? The (quite logical) recommendations such as applying ice and resting have been superseded by more intricate tips that leverage the body’s mechanisms and processes. For instance, it is now thought that by inhibiting inflammation with extensive use of ice, healing may be compromised. Prolonged disuse of the injured area may also be counterproductive. (Skip to the end of the post for more counterintuitive injury traps and mistakes such as drinking alcohol and massage*.) 

It’s important to remember that DIY first-aid is not a substitute for professional assessment and treatment. Each person and injury is different. However, if you do encounter an injury while you’re away from home or unable to access treatment, put your recovery on the right track by applying these protocols.

Immediately after the injury occurs, apply P.E.A.C.E. (Protect, Elevate, Avoid anti-inflammatories, Compress, Educate):

Protect: Restrict movement for 1-3 days. Keep rest short as prolonged disuse may undermine tissue strength and integrity. 

Elevate: Position the injured part higher than the heart to encourage fluid to flow out of injured tissue.   

Avoid anti-inflammatory medications and ice: Inflammation can actually aid soft tissue regeneration. For this reason, avoiding ice may also enable faster healing. f you do use ice, the founding physician of R.I.C.E, Dr. Gabe Mirkin, suggests applying crushed ice in a plastic bag directly to skin soon after an injury for pain reduction for up to 10 minutes, removing for 20 minutes and icing for another 10 minutes. Do not use ice more than 6 hours after the injury has occurred. 

Compression: Strapping, taping or bandaging soon after injury occurrence can help to reduce swelling.

Educate: Consult a physiotherapist as early as possible for advice to promote optimal recovery and minimise injury reccurrence.  

After a few days, switch to L.O.V.E. (Load, Optimism, Vascularisation, Exercise):

Load: Optimal loading (without worsening pain) can promote tissue healing. Return to normal activities as soon as you’re able. 

Optimism: Believing that you will recover can reduce pain perception and aid recovery. 

Vascularisation: Undertake gentle cardiovascular activity such as swimming or walking to increase blood flow to the injured area. 

Exercise: Exercise helps restore mobility, strength and proprioception. Range of motion, strength, power and balance exercises can all help reduce risk of further injury.

*MISTAKES AND TRAPS TO AVOID

To promote optimal healing, in the first 72 hours after injury, beware of these common mistakes, H.A.R.M. (Heat, Alcohol, Running, Massage):

Heat: Immersing the injured area in heat (e.g. spa or sauna or a hot bath) may increase swelling by increasing blood flow to injured tissue.

Alcohol: A few wines may help to block the pain, but alcohol may promote swelling and bleeding and effectively inhibit healing. 

Running: As much as active recovery is helpful, too much activity too soon can disrupt healing by preventing proper formation of blood clots. 

Massage: It may sound soothing, but massage of injured tissue may aggravate damage and increase swelling. 

If you are injured, commence DIY first-aid immediately and book a consultation with a physio as soon as possible to optimise healing and healing time and prevent long-term damage and injury recurrence. 

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