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Sports Injury First Aid Treatment

Immediate First Aid Treatment for Sports Injuries

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Updated September 06, 2013

Accidents happen, especially during sports. While it may be possible to limit the number and severity of injuries with injury prevention strategies, one wrong step or a collision on the field can result in a sudden, painful injury.

When this happens, you need to be prepared to act quickly. Ideally, you will have access to a well-stocked first aid kit or have medical help nearby. Compare prices on First Aid Kits.

The primary goal of sports injury first aid is to stop activity and prevent further injury or damage. Most sports injuries that require immediate treatment are called "acute injuries." These injuries occur suddenly and generally cause the following symptoms or conditions:

With an acute injury, it's usually obvious what caused the injury, but nonetheless, determining the exact cause of the injury is an important part of making quick treatment decisions.

The first treatment for most acute soft tissue injuries (bruises, strains, springs, tears) is to prevent, stop and reduce swelling. When soft tissue is damaged, it swells or possibly bleeds internally. This swelling causes pain and loss of motion, which limits use of the muscles.

Injury First Aid with PRICE (Protection, Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation

The primary treatment to stop swelling of injured soft tissue is with the PRICE method.
  • Protection. In this case, protection means stopping activity immediately and protect the injured part fro additional damage.
  • Rest. Rest the area to allow the tissues time to heal.
  • Ice. Applying cold therapy (ice or an ice pack wrapped in a thin towel) to an acute injury reduces swelling and pain. Ice is a vaso-constrictor. It causes the blood vessels to narrow and limits internal bleeding at the injury site. Apply cold to the affected area every two hours for no more than 20 minutes at a time. Allow the skin temperature to return to normal before icing a again. You can ice an acute injury several times a day for up to three days.
    Also see: Should I Ice or Heat My Injury?
  • Compression. Compression of an acute injury is perhaps the next most important immediate treatment tip. By quickly wrapping the injured body part with an elastic bandage or wrap (compare prices), you help keep swelling to a minimum. If possible, it's helpful to apply ice to the injured area over the compression wrap to limit the swelling.
  • Elevation. Elevating the injured area is another way to reduce the blood flow and swelling to the area.

Soft Tissue Injury Step-By-Step

In summary, here is what you should do immediately when you sustain any soft tissue injury:
  1. Stop the activity immediately.
  2. Wrap the injured part in a compression bandage.
  3. Apply ice to the injured part (use a bag of crushed ice or a bag of frozen vegetables) for 10 minutes to 15 minutes. Let the area warm completely before applying ice again (to prevent frostbite).
  4. Elevate the injured part to reduce swelling.
  5. Get to a physician for a proper diagnosis of any serious injury.

First Aid for Cuts and Abrasions

If the injury causes a cut or abrasion that leads to bleeding, it's important to stop the blood flow quickly. Wash the wound with soap and water, and apply an appropriate bandage until medical help arrives. A deep cut will probably require stitches, but if you can pull the edges of the cut together, you may be able to use a butterfly bandage (compare prices) to hold it closed.

Treating Chronic and Overuse Sports Injuries

While the most dramatic sports injuries are acute and sudden, the majority of sports injuries are slow to develop and result in vague aches and pains. The chronic pain of overuse injuries, such as tendonitis, tends to have subtle or vague symptoms that develop slowly. What begins as a small, nagging ache or pain can grow into a debilitating injury if it isn't recognized and treated early.

Treating overuse injuries requires rest, reducing exercise intensity, frequency and duration. Icing an overuse injury can also help reduce inflammation and pain. For more serious overuse injuries, physical therapy, over-the-counter medications and complete rest may be necessary.

Treating Other Sports Injuries

There are many possible types of injuries that may occur while playing sports. Here is information about first aid treatment for some of the more common sports injuries:

Returning to Sports After an Injury

So after you've treated your injury, what comes next? Most athletes want to know how soon they can return to their sport. This answer tends to be different for everyone, because each athlete and each injury is unique. Returning to sports too soon can increase your risk of re-injury or developing a chronic problem that will lead to a longer recovery. Waiting too long, however, can lead to unnecessary fitness declines (deconditioning).
Read more: When Is It Safe to Play Sports After an Injury?

Sources:

The American Orthopedic Society for Sports Medicine

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.

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