Injured: How Soon Should You Start Physiotherapy?
You’re hurt. Maybe you twisted your knee playing soccer or strained your back lifting your toddler. What should you do now? What’s the best way to look after yourself? And how can physiotherapy help?
Let’s start by looking at what your body does in response to an injury
The injury process
How do you know you’ve injured yourself? Often it’s because of symptoms like pain, redness, swelling, heat or redness in the affected area. That inflammation is your body’s immediate response to injury.
Your body flushes out damaged cells, starts making more infection-fighting white blood cells and increases blood flow to the sore area. Those extra blood cells, proteins and fluids infiltrate the injured tissue, causing the classic signs of inflammation like redness, swelling and pain.
So, how do you help your body’s natural healing process along? Here’s how to look after an injury in the early days and how physiotherapy can help after injury.
Early injury treatment
For a long time, physiotherapists and doctors recommended steps known as RICE (rest, ice, compression, elevation) immediately after an injury. While some of these steps were good, the overall aim was to prevent inflammation – but we now know that’s the mechanism your body uses to start the healing process. Preventing inflammation prevents the delivery of extra blood rich in infection-fighting cells. It’s like stopping an ambulance getting to the scene of an accident. Resting for too long has also been shown to slow recovery.
So now we use a different protocol known as PEACE and LOVE.
Follow PEACE for the first few days. PEACE stands for:
- Protection: Steer clear of exercises and movements that cause pain for now.
- Elevation: Raise the injured part if possible to promote fluid drainage.
- Avoid anti-inflammatory mechanisms: Don’t take anti-inflammatory medicines like ibuprofen and avoid icing the area as this potentially disrupts inflammation, slowing the delivery of white blood cells with their trauma-fighting neutrophils and macrophages.
- Compression: Applying pressure through taping or a compression bandage may help reduce swelling within a joint.
- Education: Learn how best to recover from your particular injury, gaining confidence in your body’s ability to manage and move forward.
After the first few days, it’s time to show the injured area a bit of LOVE, which stands for:
- Load: Movement and exercise helps most musculoskeletal injuries. We don’t want to overload an injury and worsen pain, but we do want to find the optimal load since moving at this level promotes tissue repair.
- Optimism: Your attitude towards your injury can influence your recovery so avoid fearful catastrophising and develop a positive mindset.
- Vascularisation: Cardiovascular activity helps increase blood flow to the injured area and reduce the need for ongoing pain medication.
- Exercise: An active approach to recovery helps restore mobility and strength.
Once the first few days have passed, it may also be beneficial to apply heat to the injury. A warm wheat bag or heat cream helps blood vessels to dilate, enabling more blood to flow to the injured area to stimulate healing. Heat can also feel soothing.
When to see a physiotherapist
Generally speaking, for soft tissue injuries, it’s best to wait 2-3 days before seeing a physio. That gives your body time to do its own first aid and for the initial pain and swelling to subside.
That said, some injuries need immediate attention. Seek medical help right away if:
- You’re in severe pain
- You can’t take more than a few steps an injured leg
- You have back pain accompanied by tingling, numbness or difficulty controlling your bowels or bladder.
Physiotherapy after injury
So what role does physiotherapy play after an injury? Physiotherapists have an in-depth understanding of how your body works and moves. We’re here to help you regain function, strength, flexibility and confidence after an injury and to help prevent it recurring.
Our physios at The Brisbane Spine Clinic can assess your condition and design a program of exercises that will promote recovery without worsening pain. We can help you maintain a positive attitude by showing you what great progress you’re making. And we can examine your biomechanics to identify and remedy and underlying vulnerabilities that may have contributed to your injury.
So, if you’re recovering from an injury and would like help to regain mobility, please make an appointment today.
All information is general in nature. Patients should consider their own personal circumstances and seek a second opinion.