Sports Medicine: Managing an Injury

(The information in this article was taken or adapted from the High Performance Coaching Program Study Guide.)

One question that is always asked of coaches and sports medicine experts is whether ice or heat should be applied to an injured area. Here is some information on the benefits and drawbacks of the application of ice and heat. 

Ice

Applying ice to the body constricts the blood vessels in the area where it is applied.  This constriction of the blood vessels results in a decrease in swelling and bleeding in the injured area.  Ice can be applied to any acute injury in the body.  It should be applied initially and for several days following the injury until the pain and swelling have subsided or until a sports medicine professional advises halting the ice procedure in favor of another treatment.  Even for some time after an injury, ice can be applied after training or tennis play to minimize possible inflammation and irritation from activity.

Ice is applied using the PRICE method:

  • P – Protect – Keep the injured area protected using a brace, tape, or some type of support.
  • R – Rest – Rest the injured area to allow healing to occur.
  • I – Ice – Apply ice. Typical application times are 15 to 20 minutes, frequently.  The ice constricts the blood vessels to control bleeding and aid in healing.
  • C – Compress – When swelling is present, compress the area with an elastic bandage. Compression limits the amount of fluid that leaks into the injured area and minimizes swelling.
  • E – Elevate – Elevate the injured area to allow drainage of fluid from the swollen area back to the center of the body, where it can be recirculated by the heart.

Heat

Applying heat to an injured area dilates or enlarges the blood vessels in that area, increasing blood flow and swelling. It should not be used immediately following an injury.   Heat is used once the inflammation and pain have subsided, and it is most effective for stiffness. It can relieve joint stiffness by increasing blood flow to the area.  Heat is often applied in therapy before a treatment to facilitate stretching and other procedures used to improve motion and strength following an injury.

 
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