Winter sport is now four or so weeks into the season, and no doubt you, or one of your team mates has suffered an injury. I can say the same thing - tearing my quadricep last Saturday playing soccer. I maintain I was sprinting - others have said otherwise.
I felt a pull of the muscle and a sharp pain. I wasn't able to continue playing and had to be helped off the field.
So what did I do next?
The automatic reaction (after realising the next few weeks would be spent watching from the sidelines), is to go for RICE - REST, ICE, COMPRESSION and ELEVATION. But is this the correct course of action for an acute injury such as a muscle or ligament tear or a contusion?
Recent research into the effect of RICE has helped change the acronym to PEACE and LOVE (see below)
Ice is a great analgesic (pain numbing agent) by cooling the skin's temperature. It certainly helped reduce the pain from my injury. However, the impact on underlying muscle is virtually non existent. Most people report that icing makes an injury feel better in the short term, but what impact does it have down the track.
It has been reported that ice and complete rest may in fact delay healing. We may actually prevent the body's natural healing mechanisms, delaying the initiation of the healing process. With some injuries though, prevention of excessive inflammation may be a good thing. Excessive oedema applies unwanted pressure on the tissues, restricts movement, can increase pain and decreases muscle function.
So ice should be used to prevent excessive inflammation but not to reduce all swelling and only in the early stages.
Why not rest? Well, we still want to rest the injured body part, but complete rest has been shown to have a negative impact and slow down rehabilitation. Hence, PROTECT is a better term - protect from activities that might further aggravate the injury. With my torn quad muscle, I certainly didn't want to be running and potentially making the tear worse, but as I found on Sunday, doing some walking actually made it feel better.
On Monday I was lucky enough to get an appointment with an excellent physio and I started some rehabilitation. I was encouraged to load the muscle up a bit, start to stretch it within pain limits and make sure I kept active. Its already feeling better and only hurts when I move it a bit too quick - I know I still have to protect it from doing this.
Move along a couple of weeks and I am back on the park, playing soccer. The thigh feels great - so what's the magic ingredient? Mostly it has been exercise - stretches to help increase the quadriceps muscle length and resistance exercises to help improve the strength of the injured muscle. The exercises have been functional and aimed at returning to my sport - running, kicking, jumping and changing direction.
Perhaps the most important lesson from this is to get any injuries seen to straight away. There is always something we can start doing to get the rehabilitation process started. In fact, the longer you leave treatment, the more stiffness and weakness you will get and the longer you will take to recover.