An acute injury is generally defined as a sudden injury resulting from a traumatic event. Tripping and landing on the outside of your ankle would be an example of a traumatic event, and this leading to a painful and swollen ankle would be an example of an acute injury. However, acute injuries are not only caused by traumatic events. These may also occur from repetitive strain or microtrauma that results to inflammation, such as running for a very long distance that you start feeling mild pain on the outside of your knee and you can hardly walk after pushing yourself to run a few more miles.
Whenever you feel pain accompanied by swelling, the best thing to do is to visit a medical practitioner or a physiotherapist to have yourself checked by a professional so you can get the appropriate treatment. In case you are unable to do so right away, the P.O.L.I.C.E. Principle is a good immediate treatment. P.O.L.I.C.E. stands for Protection, Optimum Loading, Ice, Compression, and Elevation, and this is an effective first aid method for treating musculoskeletal injuries.
Right after an injury, you need to rest the affected area for a short period of time. A splint, brace, or a pair of crutches may be used during this time to protect the injured body parts. The length of time for resting the injured body part shall depend on the severity of your injury. Usually, 2 to 3 days of rest is adequate for most injuries, but severe ligament sprains may require rest of up to 10 days.
While you are protecting your injured body part, you will need to start introducing moderate movement to help speed up recovery. Optimal loading is proven to promote healing and prevent muscle weakness as well as joint stiffness. In the case of acute lateral ankle sprains, it is recommended for the patient to start moderate walking earlier on as this helps to reduce the swelling and leads to faster recovery.
For the first 2 to 3 days, apply ice on the injured part for 20 minutes every 2 hours. This will help alleviate the pain and inflammation of the injured muscle or joint. Use a commercial ice pack, but in case you don’t have one, a plastic bag containing crushed ice will do. Don’t forget to use a wet towel when applying ice to protect your skin from ice burn.
Compression of the injured part is needed to keep this from further inflammation, proprioception, and immobilization. This is typically applied using a bandage on top of ice wrapping. The bandage should not be too tight, as this may cause discomfort and restrict blood flow.
It is important to raise or elevate the affected body part to lessen the pain and reduce swelling. Rest the injured ankle or knee on some pillows, making sure that the leg is above the level of your pelvis. When elevating your elbow or wrist, you may need to use a sling.
The Role of Physiotherapy
Although it is recommended to apply the P.O.L.I.C.E. Principle immediately, you would still need to go to a physiotherapy center so a professional can accurately assess your condition and recommend the appropriate protection and treatment for your injury. And as your injury heals, your physio would be prescribing other exercises to further help in your recovery.
Tim Ellis is the Principal Physiotherapist at Excel Physiotherapy and Wellness in Mascot, New South Wales, Australia. He specialises in treating complex necks and backs and developing highly effective exercise programs for his patients. Tim is committed to integrative health, healthy eating, exercise, and life long learning which he shares through his blogs.