• Strain, sprain, tear or bruise – The first 72 hours are critical and can mean the difference between a season ending injury and a few weeks out.

    A few simple things that you can do will make the world of difference to any muscle strain or ligament sprain. Here we will give you all the information you need to look after your injury in the first 72 hours, including whether to use ice or heat for acute inflammation.

    Why is the first 72 hours so important?

    Easy – It’s because of inflammation

    Acute inflammation is your body’s natural response to harmful stimuli and occurs whenever there is  tissue damage, whether it is from a bruise to a full-blown ligament or muscle tear, it happens every time.

    There is a lot of stigma against inflammation but really it is a natural mechanism and there for a reason: It is the first stage of the healing process and so very important. So yes we do want it to happen, but it can also cause a lot of secondary damage and prolong healing and so we need to control it.

    So here is what you should and should not do in the first 72 hours


    sprain strain self treatment ice rest compressRICE to reduce extent of bleeding, swelling and injury

    • Rest, stop all aggravating injuries.
    • Ice, 10 minutes at a time every  hour you are awake.
    • Compression, an elastic compression bandage or tubing should be worn and only removed if needed for icing.
    • Elevation, if possible rest the injured area above the level of your heart.

    Early mobilisation: It is important to begin moving the damaged area early, but gently as to avoid causing further damage. This early mobilisation means that normal muscle patterns are preserved, stronger new fibres are laid down, more scar tissue is re-absorbed, improved new blood vessel generation and last but not least there is less muscle wastage.



    • Heat
    • Alcohol
    • Running/Exercising the injured area
    • Massage

    All of these things cause the blood vessels to dilate (open up)and increases the blood flow to the area, increasing the bleeding in the injured area. This is harmful to the repair process and will mean a drawn out recovery process.

    Immobilize – unless it is a very significant tear or a suspected fracture. This is because immobilization can cause early and significant negative effects on various body systems. For example, metabolic processes leading to muscle atrophy(shrinking), and weakness of the quadriceps muscle start as early as 6 hours.

    Immobilization does accelerate formation of new blood vessels and tissue, limits scar size, but as mentioned earlier unless it is a very significant tear or suspected fracture the benefit of early immobilization is much higher

    Anti-inflammatory medication: When used improperly these can hinder or even stop the first essential stage of healing and cause the tissue to be weaker in the future.


    Final tip: If it is a lower limb injury you have (eg. Ankle sprain, calf tear, quad tear) then try to walk as normally as you can early. Just remember to walk heel-to-toe, heel-to-toe.

    Whether you have a groin strain, sprained ankle or pulled muscle anywhere in your body, if you look after your injury right in the first 72 hours, you will be back to doing what you love faster and stronger! And remember if in doubt, go get it assessed by your local physio.

    If you are a trainer, coach, parent etc this is a great little resource to have around for quick information: Soft tissue injury info sheet.