Seconds after an injury the body’s inflammatory response will immediately start the healing process. The tissues around the site of injury are flooded with fluid and proteins to help deal with the damage, circulation to the area increases, and the injury starts to feel warm and tender. Swelling is the body’s natural reaction to an injury. Although a certain amount of swelling is unavoidable, it’s important to do what you can to control the process for these important reasons:
- Prolonged inflammation and pain can lead to atrophy of the muscles surrounding the injury
- If not treated appropriately, swelling can become chronic, or long term. Chronic swelling leads to tissues becoming more rigid and less pliable.
Use the following tips to help reduce swelling after an injury. Although it might be tempting to try and continue normal activity after an injury, it’s a good idea to rest the injury for at least a few days. The tips below will go a long way to help you deal with the pain and keep the swelling to a minimum. Rest is the body’s ultimate healing tool.
Applying an ice-pack or cold compress to an injury is the fastest way to deal with immediate swelling. It helps reduce swelling by restricting blood flow to the area and slowing down cellular metabolism. Cold therapy systems and ice baths are other methods you can use to apply cold to the area.
Applying cold several times a day for 20 to 30 minutes at a time to keep will keep swelling down, especially in the first several days.
Applying direct pressure to an injury helps reduce swelling by restricting blood flow. Things like compression bandages, elastic bandages, or cold compression devices should provide enough compression without being too constrictive. Compression can also help ease pain by keeping the injured area somewhat immobilized.
Elevating an injury just after an accident will contribute to reduced blood flow and therefore, less swelling. For leg injuries, keep the legs elevated while seated or reclining so that excess fluid does not collect. For arm injuries, try to rest the affected arm on a table or chair so that it is above the level of your heart.
Things to avoid when you have a soft tissue injury:
In the first 48-72 hours following an injury it is important to avoid the following1:
- Heat- it increases blood flow and swelling.
- Alcohol- This also increases blood flow and swelling, and will slow the healing process.
- Massage- If done too early it may also increase blood flow and swelling. Massage should only be done once the swelling is gone.
If your swelling is chronic or lasts longer than 2-3 weeks, you should see your doctor. They will be able to recommend medication, exercise, and therapy to resolve the swelling. Remember, swelling is the body’s reaction to an injury; so if the swelling is still present, so is the injury.
2- Nationwide Children’s hospital. Swelling: The Body’s Reaction to Injury. http://www.nationwidechildrens.org/swelling-bodys-reaction-to-injury