Most of us have had an instance where we stepped funny and twisted our ankle or knee, maybe stretched our shoulder too far, or tripped and injured our wrist. These are examples of an acute injury. Acute injuries are usually the result of a single traumatic event. This is in contrast to a chronic injury that occurs with repetition and over time. Swelling is a common occurrence after injury. Swelling is a normal reaction to injury; however, the swelling reaction is excessive sometimes. Let’s look at what happens when your body has swelling after an injury.
After an injury, the body identifies the injured area and sends many white blood cells to the area to start the healing work. This reaction is also associated with extra blood flow to the area, which can cause heat and redness. This increased fluid in the area causes swelling and thus pain. Extra fluid in the area can affect the nerves in the area of injury, also contributing to pain. These are all part of a normal inflammatory response to injury.
Injury to tissue → white blood cells sent to the area → increased blood flow to the area as blood carries the white blood cells → redness over area → swelling present → feels warm to touch
The initial reaction occurs within minutes, with swelling appearing over several hours after injury. Acute swelling is usually short-lived and lasts a few days.
As mentioned, swelling is a normal response to injury. With swelling, you also usually have limitations in the range of motion of the joint, tenderness to touch and decreased strength. Swelling can be protective after injury by preventing us from using the area to allow time for healing. For example, if you sprain your ankle playing soccer and it is swollen and painful, you are less likely to try to go for a run, possibly leading to further injury. Too much swelling or large amounts of swelling for a long duration can become detrimental to healing. Prolonged inflammation and pain can lead to decreased ability to activate the muscles and eventual weakness or muscle atrophy. Chronic swelling can also lead to decreased flexibility in the tissues, which can lead to an increased risk of injury.
The P.R.I.C.E. method is the go-to course of treatment after acute injury.
Generally, it is not recommended to return to sports until the swelling is gone. You should be able to perform all your sports skills, running, jumping, kicking, and throwing, without increasing pain or swelling before you attempt a return to competition. A physical therapist can also assist in recovery after injury and determining when you can return to play.
*Per federal guidelines, beneficiaries of plans such as Medicare, Medicaid, Tricare, VHA and other federally funded plans are not eligible for free assessments.
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