First aid for acute injuries in athletics
Swift and proper treatment of acute injuries increase the likelihood of a quick recovery.
The recommended treatment for most acute injuries is referred to as the PRICE principle. This is an acronym for protection, rest, ice, compression, and elevation.
The goal of this treatment is to:
- Reduce pain and swelling
- Lay the foundation for a good rehabilitation
We recommend continuing the treatment for at least 48 hours after the time of the injury. However, some of the elements are more applicable than others.
PRICE is comprised of basic principles in the treatment of acute injuries, but should always be tailored to the injury type and site. Always use common sense. If a serious injury is suspected, contact emergency services.
In this context, it means to remove the athlete from play to protect against further injury. This is especially important in the first 48 hours after the injury occurred.
The athlete should not continue with any activity following the injury. A general recommendation is that the knee should be offloaded during the first 24 hours.
The aim of applying ice is to relieve pain. 20 minutes with an ice pack every other hour for a day or two has a good effect.
Even though there are many commercial ice products available, the best solution is often a plastic bag filled with crushed ice and some water. Place a damp towel between the ice pack and skin.
The most important aspect of first aid treatment for acute knee injuries is compression. This can reduce swelling. Use an elastic bandage and start wrapping it around the knee. Start from below the knee and finish slightly above it. The bandage should be as tight as possible, without stopping blood flow past the injury site. Signs that the bandage is too tight can include numbness, tingling and increased pain.
Swelling in the knee can often be limited by keeping the knee elevated. Let the foot rest above hip level on a chair or cushion. This is particularly important in the first few hours, but it is best to continue to keep it elevated as much as possible for the first 24 hours. Remember that compression should be maintained around the clock to keep internal bleeding (swelling) to a minimum.
Pulled muscle in the thigh/calf
Stop your activity if you think a muscle fiber may be torn. Start PRICE treatment immediately. Be sure to apply compression to the affected area. Avoid putting any weight on the injured muscle for the first 24 hours.
Important note: If you hear a snap or crack, the Achilles tendon may be injured or torn. Go straight to the emergency room. Apply compression and ice as usual.
Read more about treating acute thigh injuries and lower leg here.
If you sprain your ankle, stop your activity and start PRICE treatment immediately. Apply compression as quickly as possible, in order to prevent swelling and pain. Avoid putting any weight on the ankle for the first 24 hours. Go straight to the emergency room if the foot or ankle is displaced.