Your body is a healing machine

Acute injury and what the symptoms really mean

— By Laura Furneaux | The Adaptable You

There is nothing cute about acute injury.

There you were, having a great time when all of a sudden, WHAM! You’re injured. Injuries hurt, they look weird and they totally cramp your style.

Pain and injury can be frustrating and confusing. There are so many products out touting their speed healing properties. I’m here to tell you about what an incredible healing machine you already are and how your body already has it covered.

Over the next several columns, we’ll explore injuries and how you can best recover.

Let’s talk about the basics.

What is an acute injury?

An acute injury has occurred when you can say with certainty what caused the injury. This can result in a wide variety of scrapes, cuts, bruises, sprains, strains, tears and fractures. To keep things simple, let’s focus on sprains and strains.

An acute injury has occurred when you can say with certainty what caused it. You could, for example, hurt your knee on a specific play during a soccer game.

An acute injury has occurred when you can say with certainty what caused it. You could, for example, hurt your knee on a specific play during a soccer game.

What is a sprain/strain?

Sprains and strains involve muscle, tendon and ligament that have been stretched/stressed too far or too quickly (e.g. Going for soccer ball, you jar your knee and feel pain afterward or you fall off your bike and injure your wrist). This often results in varying degrees of tears in the tissue.

Here are a few symptoms you’re likely to experience in varying degrees with a sprain/strain:

  • Pain
  • Swelling
  • Redness, bruising, discoloration
  • Heat

It’s important to note that these are normal and important reactions to an injury. Here’s why each symptom is important:

Pain: Pain is a protector. Think of it like a smoke alarm. It doesn’t tell us whether or not there is a fire, but we know we have to pay attention and stop what we’re doing. It’s important that you listen to that alarm.

Swelling: Although we don’t like seeing our body misshapen, it’s important to know that swelling is a normal response of the body to injury. When I’m examining a newly sprained ankle and I see swelling, I’m actually pleased. This means your body is responding the way it should to an injury. Your body is a healing machine and as soon as you have an injury, signals are sent to increase certain types of cells to that area to clean up and begin the repair job. Swelling also has another important job: limiting range of motion while the tissues heal.

Redness, bruising, discoloration: It’s quite normal to see a bruise around the area of an injury. Usually this is seen a few days or weeks after the injury. The bruising does not tell us how bad an injury is, just that there was damage to the tissues in that area.

Heat: Because of all the hard work the repair crew is doing around the injured area, you may notice the area is warm to touch. Again this is a normal reaction and is nothing to be concerned about.

SEE ALSO: Four ways to reduce the risk of injury

What now?

Once you’ve ruled out more serious stuff (fractures, dislocations, complete tears), there are a few simple things you can do:

  1. Keep the injured area moving within a pain free range of motion: Keeping the muscles active is important as it improves blood flow which helps flush swelling out of the area, allowing space for the new cleanup crew to come in and get to work.
  2. Compression: compression stockings are great for ankle sprains.
  3. Relative rest: You’ll likely need to taper back a few of your activities, depending on the injury. The more active you can stay, the better, so consider things like biking, swimming.

How long until I can get back to normal?

This depends on the severity of the injury. It’s also a great idea to have the injury checked out by your physiotherapist to develop a plan of how you can best recover.

Next column, we'll talk about those injuries that appear seemingly from nowhere or what I call persistent pain.

Laura Furneaux is a physiotherapist and former national team sprint kayaker. She works in Dartmouth, N.S., and her clinical interests are pain science, orthopaedic manual therapy and concussion rehabilitation.

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