Self-management - What can I do?
Injuries - Immediate care
Acute injuries are generally painful, swollen and red - this is all part of the inflammatory process, the first stage of healing, which should last between two and three days. Pain is there for a purpose; it makes us look after an injury and avoid aggravating it.
If in doubt - get it checked out!
If you are finding it difficult to weight or move a particular joint after a traumatic injury, go to A&E and have it checked out - fractures and soft tissue ruptures are best treated quickly - don’t just hope for the best.
We can help recovery at this point by ‘RICE’:
R - est
Initially avoid using the injured site. Gentle, pain free movements will reduce stiffening.
I - ce
Apply an ice pack or bag of frozen peas, wrapped in a wet tea towel for 10 to 15 minutes. For hands and feet, try a tub of cold water with ice cubes in it. Repeat every few hours while still swollen.
C - ompression
Apply a stretch-bandage to control swelling and add support.
E - levation
Above heart level to reduce swelling and assist lymphatic drainage.
Avoid using heat or massage at this point as it will increase bloodflow and swelling to the area, the injury needs to settle and allow the production of scar tissue.
Further treatment depends on how severe your injury is…
Less severe injuries should see pain and swelling settling within two to three days, allowing further pain-free movement, returning to full range, strength and normal use over the next few weeks. If not: seek a professional opinion on how best to rehabilitate the injury and structure a return to your normal activities. This is where pain can establish itself into a pattern and become ingrained with our movements, putting more strain on the joints and muscles: it needs the right input to settle and allow things to heal and re-balance.
Serious pathologies are rare: however, if you have severe pain which is getting worse instead of better, or if you are feeling unwell with neck or back pain, you should see your doctor.
The following symptoms can occasionally be associated with more serious neck or back pain – again you should see your doctor on experiencing these:
- Difficulty going to the toilet
- Numbness around your saddle area
- Numbness, pins and needles or weakness in both arms or both legs
- Difficulty breathing or swallowing
- Dizziness or fainting
Chronic conditions - Making a change
When old injuries or habitual strains have been around for a while, we may need to focus on ideas to avoid pain building up too much, as well as some specific exercises to put things back on the right track. If we start slowly and pace ourselves with regaining better movement and strength, the body will adapt to this new pattern and bury our memories of painful movement.
Things to try:
These can allow us to safely mask pain and carry on with our activities – often over-the-counter painkillers will be sufficient for this. Paracetamol is the simplest and safest painkiller, you could also use anti-inflammatories like Ibuprofen. Use the full recommended dose and use them regularly – don't wait until the pain is out of control. Usually you should only need to do this for a few days, perhaps for a week or two. Do not use Ibuprofen if you are pregnant, asthmatic or have any stomach or digestive complaints. For further information consult your GP.
Heat or Cold
Experiment with what works for you to reduce pain and muscle spasm. Heat can be very effective when combined with gentle stretching to relax tight muscle.
Massage and manipulation
An experienced practitioner can help to restore balance in the joints and muscles of the body. Physiotherapists will follow current guidelines for best practice and have specific training in the appropriate use of their techniques with different clients. This is not a quick fix for all our problems - long term we need to be doing some things ourselves to maintain this balance and stay healthy.
Anxiety, stress and muscle tension can all contribute to us feeling more pain. Try and take time out to find a comfortable, relaxed position and stretch out tight areas focussing on deep, gentle abdominal breaths to calm the body and mind. Try this with the Brugger relief position or the lying positions shown on our exercises for a healthy spine page.
Regular exercise and healthy lifestyle
The body is designed for lots of movement and activity – we should all be aiming to do at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise, at least five times a week. There should be a phase of warming up here, followed by the exercise and a warm down and a stretch of the muscle groups involved. Find which areas are tight for you and gradually work on gently stretching them out each day.
A concentration on good posture allows the body to work from a more efficient position – again, have a look at the exercises on our exercises for a healthy spine page. Nobody keeps ‘perfect’ posture all the time, but the more we remind ourselves, the better our awareness becomes.