That sports-filled weekend was a big thrill. But now it’s over, and you’re feeling it.
Your back aches. Your ankle is sore. You can’t remember where you put the ibuprofen. After all that testosterone-filled fun, it’s time to take stock of your bumps and bruises. You need to see where you stand, physically.
If you can stand at all, that is.
Should You See a Doctor?
There are no set rules. But in general, see the doctor if:
- Your injury causes severe pain, swelling, or numbness
- You can’t tolerate any weight on the area
- An old injury hurts again and is swollen
- A longtime sore joint is weak
When to Treat It Yourself
If none of those apply, it’s probably OK to wait a little while. Do some self-treatment and see how you feel after a few days.
If you’re just sore, it will get better over time, says Kenneth Mautner, assistant professor of orthopaedics at Emory University in Atlanta. Take ibuprofen or acetaminophen for your aches and pains.
Ice or Heat?
Most of the time, ice is for comfort rather than true treatment, says R. Amadeus Mason, MD, assistant professor of orthopaedic surgery and family medicine at Emory.
Ice controls pain and closes your blood vessels to ease swelling. It can also limit bruising. Use it during the first 48 hours after you get hurt. Leave it on for 15 to 20 minutes, then take it off for the same amount of time. Wrap a wet towel or cloth around it so it doesn’t sit right on your skin. A cold water bottle will do in a pinch.
Follow the RICE treatment to do it right:
R for rest
I for ice
C for compression (Wrap something like an elastic bandage around the injured area.)
E for elevation (Keep the injured part above your heart, or at least parallel to the ground.)
Don’t use heat for a new injury. It works best to loosen tight muscles and ease aching joints before a workout or game. It can also help with ongoing problems, like tennis elbow.
Wrap or Brace?
An elastic bandage puts pressure on the hurt area, which holds down swelling. That might help you feel better, says Matt Gammons, MD, first vice president for the American Medical Society for Sports Medicine.
Braces are mostly used for long-term problems like knee arthritis or carpal tunnel syndrome. But if you sprain an ankle, your doctor will put you in one. A brace that lets the joint move a little can help you heal faster.
Don’t use an elastic bandage or a neoprene brace to steady a shaky joint. “If you're wrapping because your knee feels unstable, that’s not good,” Gammons says. You need a doctor to look at it.
When Can You Get Back Out There?
Rest the area for at least 48 hours. You should be good to go if the soreness disappears and there’s no injury or swelling you can see.
If you don’t give it some time off, that sore muscle or achy joint could turn into what doctors call an overuse injury.
We know these by clever names like tennis elbow, shin splints, and swimmer’s shoulder. You’ll need to see a doctor to get diagnosed and treated if you have problems with the same area time after time.