OK, you have just been injured, what are you going to do, rest, stay active or seek treatment? It can be somewhat confusing to know what to do. There is so much misinformation and so many mixed messages. Natural instinct might be to rest as that is what you do when you are "sick". But you are not sick, you are injured. The purpose of this article is to draw on both the latest evidence and clinical experience to give you some guidelines on what is best practice management following an injury.
The Traditional Model of Treatment
The acronym R.I.C.E. (Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation) was for a long time the benchmark for acute clinical care following injury. This was expanded to PRICER to include Protection and Referral to better address the essential need not to re-aggravate your injury as well as to encourage you to seek professional assistance so that you can minimise any possible complications and optimise your recovery.
But now the term 'rest' is being widely criticised as it can be interpreted to mean 'being inactive' and doesn't reflect the possibility of needing to load or move injured tissues and structures to facilitate the healing process.1,2
Consequences of the Term 'Rest'
Bed rest, initially thought to be the safest approach in the treatment of acute musculo-skeletal injury (especially for acute low back pain4), has been found to cause further complications and disablement3 physically and psychologically.
Not only may 'rest' result in increased swelling, poor circulation, slow, delayed and inferior tissue repair, but it may also lead social isolation, catastraphization and a sense of hopelessness.
A New Acronym and Treatment Approach
Recently, the British Journal of Sports Medicine published a new acronym, POLICE, (where Rest is replaced by Optimal Loading) as a treatment guideline. The POLICEacronym, still recognises the importance of Protection through the use of crutches, braces or taping for at least the first 3-6 days to prevent further bleeding, inflammation, damage and pain.
Likewise, Ice, Compression and Elevation are still considered essential in the initial stages of treatment.
How much loading that is optimal depends upon a number of factors including the degree of damage, the stage of healing, the irritability of the tissue (how much stimulus, causing how much pain for how long it lasts) as well as the expertise of a health professional.
More severe, acute and sensitive injuries may require immobilisation for a time, to protect against re-injury and to allow for repair. However, the research is increasingly advocating early movement to reduce swelling, enhance circulation, maintain joint movement stimulate the formation of collagen fibre networks and facilitate their alignment along lines of force.
Scientists from the University of Tampere, Finland, stated that following a muscle tear, the limb should be immobilised initially for a scar to form before activity is commenced within the limits of pain7. Extended periods of restricting movement however, lead to the random laying down of fibres predisposing the tissue to again being injured and damaged when stress is re-applied3.
Optimal Physical Stimulation - The Key to Accelerated Recovery and Optimal Repair
Physical loading is not just critical for the stimulation, regulation and turnover of healthy, adaptable and strong tissues and structures. Physical loading also can accelerate healing. This is what researchers from the University of Queensland discovered when they applied controlled loading during fracture healing.
Another study at the University of Ulster, Ireland, found that exercises started in the first week following grade 1 and 2 ankle sprains "significantly accelerated tissue healing9.
For joint injuries and post-surgical cartilage repairs, early easy movement with low level optimal loading had been shown to reduce complications, accelerate healing and improve tissue repair5,10.
For Achilles tendinopathy, researchers from the University of Emea, Sweden, found that specific loading of the Achilles tendon lead to decreased pain as well as improved Achilles tendon strength and function, 3.8 years after the training finished12.
Finally in another study, early quadriceps activation and progression in strength training was shown to reduce pain following knee injury13,14.
Consequently, if you want to accelerate healing, if you want to optimise repair and if you want to achieve the best most complete recovery possible, early, precise movement and loading under the expert supervision of a skilled health professional is critical.
Why it is Better to Be Seen Sooner than Later
The sooner you see a qualified health professional skilled in the art of rehabilitation following your injury, the sooner you can begin optimising each stage of healing. Ultimately, this means faster healing, a better repair and a more complete recovery.
A skilled physiotherapist is able to ascertain the source and cause of your injury as well as grade its severity, irritability and the stage of healing. These are critical factors that uniquely influence the intensity and guide progression of your treatment.
If you are injured or if you know of someone else who has a physical injury, seek or encourage them to seek treatment as soon as possible. It may just save you and them weeks if not months of pain, lack of function and frustration.
To overcome your injury or pain and reclaim your health, please call Bodywise Health on 1 300 BODYWISE (263 994).for a complimentary*, no obligation assessment and Recovery Action Plan from one of our expert physiotherapists.
We look forward to helping you get your life back.
Until next time, Stay Bodywise,
* Rebates are available through your private insurance extras cover;
* For complex or chronic conditions, you may qualify for the EPC (Enhanced Primary Care Program) allowing you to receive 5 allied health services each calendar year with a referral from your GP. For more information, please call Bodywise Health now on 1 300 BODYWISE (263 994).
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3. The Iowa Ortho J, 1995,15,29-42.
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14. Med Sci Sports & Exerc, 2010, 42 (5) 856-864.