Why to things swell up after an injury?

It doesn’t matter how it happens, you misstep off of a curb and torque your knee, you twist an ankle while trail running or pull your shoulder out throwing a ball. The fact is you now have what is known as an “Acute injury.”

Sometimes they hurt moments after you do it, other times is days or a week later. Usually pain comes first and the next step is swelling. The rational behind why we have swelling is complex. The swelling will to some extend reduce the range of motion in the joint, and the heat can fight infection, but we all know, too much inflammation can be a problem that has to be dealt with in order to fully heal.

There are several types of swelling from the more simple form “Edema” which is fluid accumulating in the tissues outside the joint capsule. This can appear red (Or not) puffy and enlarged. When fluid is trapped inside the joint capsule its called “Effusion” this is the swollen ankle or knee most of the more active of us have had at one point or another. The most severe of these types of injuries is called “Hemarthrosis” and this is indicative of a severe ligamentous injury or fracture. This presents as blood within the effusion inside the joint capsule. There is no way to know about the latter without removing some fluid from the joint which is common in the most severe cases. Acute swelling is that which shortly follows an injure and Chronic is that which lasts for weeks or months.

Swelling has its good and bad points.

When a body part swells up, the redness, increase in size and heat serve a purpose. The increase in size stands to splint the joint, the heat prevents the thriving of bacteria in the area. The above changes take place due to increased blood flow.

One of the bad points is that the increase in size creates pressure on the nerves which can cause pain. If a body part remains swollen for to long, it can actually contribute to atrophy and loss of strength. In athletes this can be a major setback and slow down their return to their sport. It can also leave the athlete susceptible to re-injury another undesirable trait.

Many of us have heard the acronym RICE which stands for Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation. This is the best short term remedy for acute swelling.

Rest: means exactly that, don’t use the part under stress. In other words be wary of putting any pressure on the joint. Passive or light movement is actually very helpful but only if utilized within your tolerance. This is not a no pain no gain situation in fact the opposite.

Ice: the part with the following formula. Twenty minutes of ice followed by two hours off between applications. Going past the twenty minutes is actually deleterious and slows down the effect (Hunting Lewis reaction) so excessive ice is unnecessary. When using ice or an ice pack, don’t place them directly on the skin, place a thin towel or rag between the ice and the skin.

Compression: is the application of an elastic bandage of some sort giving pressure to the affected area. This pressure helps prevent excessive fluids from remaining in the area.

Elevation: Try to elevate the affected part above heart level. This helps with drainage of the area and helps ward off the prolonged swelling spoken about above.

It is normal after an acute injury for swelling to last two to three weeks. If yours lasts longer than that, it may be prudent to talk to your doctor about anti-inflammatory medication.

Swelling is the manifestation of your injury so if the injured part is still swollen, its still injured so do NOT go back to your sport until the swelling is gone. Yeah I know…. This is for the athletes who are often hard pressed to take time off.

As always thanks for reading and I hope this helps….