Do You Have An Acute Or Chronic Injury

Exercising is great for your body, but sometimes, it can result in an injury that can cause mild to intense pain and strain. An injury can occur because of many reasons, including accidents, ill-informed training practices or poor conditioning; where possible, all three things should be managed as much as possible to reduce the chances of injury. Injuries come in two broad types: acute and chronic. It’s important to understand whether you have an acute or chronic injury as this impacts how you manage the problem, and how they affect recovery time and future issues.

What is an Acute Injury?

Acute injuries present themselves suddenly and are typically linked with a trauma, for example a torn muscle due to an impact or torsion. The most common form of acute injuries in day to day life are sprains and strains. A sprain is an injury to a ligament connecting bones – usually caused by overstretching an ankle, knee or wrist. A strain is an injury to a muscle or tendon – commonly due to overstretching and tearing the muscle or tendon.

To tackle acute injuries, the body will utilise inflammation around the problem area to repair the damaged tissues. This results in most of the following symptoms, which may persist for weeks after the acute injury:

  • Sudden, severe pain
  • Swelling
  • Inability to place weight on a lower limb
  • Extreme tenderness in an upper limb
  • Inability to move a joint through full range of motion
  • Extreme limb weakness
  • Visible dislocation/break of a bone

Assessing Your Injury

If you suspect you have a serious injury, you should go straight to A&E. The following points will help you to assess the severity of your injury and make a judgement about whether your injury needs to be seen by a professional:

  • The affected area has come up in serious swelling and is causing a lot of pain.
  • There are visible changes, for example, large lumps or limbs bent in unusual ways.
  • There are popping or crunching sounds when you move.
  • You cannot put any weight on the injured area, or you feel unstable when you do so.
  • You are struggling to catch your breath, feel dizzy or feverish.

These are all signs of a serious injury, so if none of these present it’s likely you have a more minor injury.

    Acute Injury Treatment

    PRICE – Protection, Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation remains one of the most recommended approaches for the management of an acute injury. The aim is to minimise haemorrhage, swelling, inflammation, cellular metabolism, and pain, to provide the optimum conditions for healing to take place.

    • Protection – Protect the injured area from further injury – using a support bandage if appropriate.
    • Rest – Stop the activity that caused the injury and rest the injured joint or muscle. Avoid activity for the first 48 to 72 hours after injury. Rest helps to begin the healing process as your body works to heal it. The injured part of your body will be weak and vulnerable, therefore, it is important to give your body a chance to do its job!
    • Ice – For the first 48 to 72 hours after an acute injury, apply cooling bandages to improve the healing process. Cooling therapy is usually most effective in the first two days after the injury has been sustained. Cooling products work by relieving the pain in the problem area and reducing the swelling.
    • Compression – Compress or bandage the injured area to limit any swelling and movement that could damage it further. Compression helps to prevent the build-up of fluid in the affected area. Apply the bandage firmly around the injury but not too tightly. If applied too tightly a compression bandage can be uncomfortable and prevent the normal and necessary blood flow to the area.
    • Elevation – Keep the injured area raised and supported on a pillow to help reduce swelling. Try and relax, as well as keep the injury elevated above the level of your heart. This helps to minimise the swelling as it will encourage the fluid to drain away from the problem area. If raising the injured area above your heart causes difficulties, try to keep it around the same level to help encourage the same process.

    What is a Chronic Injury?

    A chronic injury commonly results from overusing one body area or from a long-standing condition. These types of injuries are common in many endurance sports such as cycling, running, and swimming but can even present themselves from more sedentary activity like spending too long on a computer. They are sometimes referred to as overuse injuries because they occur in body parts that are used a lot whilst playing a sport or by exercising for an extended period of time.

    Common chronic injuries include arthritis, tendonitis, tennis elbow, repetitive strain injury (RSI) and runner’s knee. These injuries can be linked to incorrect training techniques, pushing your body too fast, or even by over-extending your body in a certain motion during a sporting activity.

    Signs of a chronic injury include:

    • Swelling
    • Tenderness to a limb
    • Long-lasting pain

    Some injuries require prompt medical treatment, while others can be self-treated. You should seek advice from a health professional if:

    • The injury causes severe pain, swelling, or numbness
    • You can’t tolerate weight on the area
    • The pain or dull ache of an old injury is accompanied by increased swelling, joint abnormality, or instability

    Chronic Injury Treatment

    Chronic injuries happen more frequently than acute injuries in almost every sport; however, because chronic injuries are not as immobilising and sudden as acute ones, they are often overlooked by the individual.

    If you think you may be suffering from a chronic injury, it is crucial that you seek the advice of a healthcare professional, as delays in treatment can lead to a more serious injury. This should particularly be the case if you are suffering from swelling, bruising, discolouration or pain.

    Successful management of chronic injuries require progressive active mobilisation(1), which consists of strengthening, flexibility, and endurance exercises. These will usually be selected by a healthcare professional like a physiotherapist, and initially carried out under their instruction and observation. This will help to repair and strengthen the muscles/joints to reduce the likelihood of further injury. Cooling can also be used as a supporting therapy to help manage the pain and other problems associated with a chronic injury.

    Whether you have an acute injury or a chronic injury our cooling bandages can help you manage the pain and swelling and get back to doing what you love faster.

    1. https://www.mja.com.au/journal/2003/178/5/3-rehabilitation-principles-treating-chronic-musculoskeletal-injuries

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