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ATHLETIC INJURIES: FIRST AID IS THE BEST AID
By Dr. Joseph J. Murphy
Athletic injuries occur to all of us even if we aren't athletes. From weekend warrior to weekend gardener, all of us can suffer from the most common types of athletic injuries: sprains and strains. Here, first aid can mean the difference between fast healing and chronic problems.
There are 3 basic types of tissue involved with the movement of the joints of our body. Muscles, which are the active tissues that cause the movement of the joints; tendons, which attach the muscles to the bone; and ligaments which hold the bones together. (You can think of ligaments as the chain used to keep a swinging storm door from swinging out too far).
Sprains are tears in ligaments. Strains are tears in muscles and tendons. You do not always have a sprain when you have a strain, but in order to have a tear of a ligament (sprain) you almost always tear muscle and tendons (strains). Ligament tears, (sprains) are generally more serious than muscle or tendon tears (strains). Both are categorized in severity from 1 to 3, with 3 being the worst type of tear.
The best treatment for sprains and strains is first aid. Ice, carefully applied to the injured area as soon as possible is probably one of the most effective first aids for athletic injuries. Although in some situations heat is indicated, I tell my patients to always use ice if they have any doubt in their mind. As many athletic specialist will agree, ice will generally not harm an area, while heat applied incorrectly can. Ice applied during the acute stage of a sprain or strain of any area will reduce the inflammation, limit swelling, and generally relieve a good deal of pain.
The next most important first aid for an injured area is rest. Although many people believe in the phrases, "no pain no gain" or "you should work through the pain", these actually do not apply to acute strains or sprains unless you are a professional athlete. (Professional athletes are often forced to continue using injured areas; you have a choice not to). Resting the injured area by not using it and additionally applying ice will reduce healing time greatly.
The next most important step in first aid for a sprain or strain is to try and elevate the injured body part. The elevation of the body part helps to keep swelling to a minimum and not allow blood to pool at the injury site.
Sprains and strains, although they seem like minor injuries, can often have debilitating long term effects. Sprain/strain injury to the neck during auto accidents can lead to disabling neck problems and headaches later in life. Serious sprains in ankles or wrists can cause continuing problems many months or years after the injury occurs. This is why proper first aid at the time of injury is so crucial.
Because sprains can cause chronic problems, it is advisable to see your athletic health care professional as soon as possible after a moderate to severe sprain occurs. He or she will best be able to advise you as to whether further treatment is necessary beyond first aid.
In summary, by icing, resting and elevating a sprain or strain as soon as possible after injury, you maximize your body's ability to heal itself and minimize healing time and future complication. Remember, in athletic injuries, first aid is the best aid. We specialize in treating athletic injuries.