Most soft-tissue injuries are painful because of the swelling and inflammation that occurs after an injury. Pain relief is often the main reason that people turn to over-the-counter (OTC) anti-inflammatory medications that work by reducing the inflammation that occurs as a result of the injury.
It's helpful to know the warning signs of a serious injury in order to determine the best treatment, but in general acute and chronic injuries are treated in the following ways.
Acute injuries are generally caused by a sudden impact from a collision, fall or twisting motion. Pain, swelling and other signs of trauma are immediate. The immediate treatment for acute injuries starts with the R.I.C.E. method of injury treatment (rest, ice, compression and elevation).
The most common acute injuries are tears, sprains and strains to muscles and ligaments. Tears can range from a minor partial tear to a complete tear (rupture) that requires surgical repair. Acute injuries have varying degrees of inflammation at the injury site. The role of the inflammatory cells is to help the body remove debris and dead cells and help healing. Anti-inflammatory medication is typically used to minimize inflammation.
Over-the-Counter (OTC) Pain Medications
OTCs, such as Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), are commonly used to reduce inflammation. Other OTC pain relievers, such as Acetaminophen are also helpful. NSAIDs are best used immediately after injury, before swelling occurs. Side effects may include stomach upset.
Chronic soft-tissue injuries often begin as a mild, nagging pain that just never goes away. Tendinitis is a common chronic injury. Chronic injuries are treated with rest, physical therapy, and over-the-counter NSAIDs. NSAIDs provides pain relief but doesn't help aid healing, and other pain relievers may work just as well.
Some physicians use corticosteroids to treat chronic soft-tissue injuries. Local site injections can result in quick pain relief. Long term use of corticosteroids isn't recommended. Most physicians avoid using corticosteroids in weight-bearing tendons such as the Achilles tendon due to potential weakening of the tendon over time. They are much more commonly used in the upper body. Pain relief with these injections is temporary.
Although anti-inflammatory medication can be helpful in the short-term, long-term use these medications is discouraged.
Additionally, NSAIDs aren't recommended for use before or during endurance sports. Several studies have found little actual performance benefit of taking ibuprofen and warn that it may mask pain, which can lead to increased risk of injury. Other studies have cautioned that the use of NSAIDs during ultra distance exercise is associated with an increased risk of exertional hyponatremia.
Should I Ice or Heat My Injury?
The treatment for acute sports injuries starts by applying ice; heat may be helpful to ease muscle tension in chronic aches and pains. Read these guidelines to help learn more about heat and ice for injuries.
The Use of Ice in the Treatment of Acute Soft-Tissue Injury. A Systematic Review of Randomized Controlled Trials;
Chris Bleakley, et al, The American Journal of Sports Medicine
2004, Volume 32.
The Use of Ice in the Treatment of Acute Soft-Tissue Injury. A Systematic Review of Randomized Controlled Trials; Chris Bleakley, et al, The American Journal of Sports Medicine 2004, Volume 32.