If you’re reading this because you hurt yourself in sport, we’re sorry to hear it and hope you get better soon. And if this is your first sports injury, you may want to know how long healing takes and how soon you can play again. For exact answers, you need to ask your personal doctor and physical therapists, but we can give a general idea. For starters, it’s broken down into the acute phase, the subacute phase, and the chronic phase.

Acute Phase

This is the first phase of recovery, beginning immediately after the injury. You’re probably still wearing your jersey when the treatment begins. The focus is not on healing yet, but on limiting damage, controlling inflammation, and stabilizing the situation. We can use the acronym PRICE to remember the treatment steps in this critical phase:

  • Protect the injured area from any further damage buy immobilizing and cushioning it.
  • Rest the muscles around the injured area by avoiding any strain or exertion. They will be weak for a while, and more vulnerable to further damage.
  • Ice on the injury will decrease blood flow temporarily, reducing swelling and pain until you can get further attention.
  • Compression works alongside immobilization and ice to reduce fluid buildup around the injury and make it easier to immobilize. Compression should never be too tight, so if the binding gets uncomfortable it should be removed and retied more loosely.
  • Elevating the injury also helps keep down inflammation by allowing fluids to drain away from the injury site.

This phase usually lasts 2-3 days

Why is inflammation bad?

Swelling (or inflammation) is caused by fluids building up in an injured area, reducing mobility, and causing pain. The body is designed to protect itself, and swelling is its way of telling your brain “This body part is injured. Do not use it or make it worse.” But swelling can sometimes be excessive. Long-term inflammation can cause muscle atrophy and make it hard to regain former flexibility, leading to a higher risk of future injury to those muscles. For the sake of long-term recovery, we seek to keep inflammation to a minimum while taking care of the injury in other ways.

Subacute Phase

After the swelling and bruising have decreased, you can gently start to move the injured area a tiny bit. Never push it to hurt, but tiny motions can test and improve the range of motion. A physical therapist can help you determine how much is safe to exercise it, but it will likely take a few weeks of limited range moving and stretching every day before you are comfortable walking on it again.

Chronic Phase

Everything that happens after you can use the injured joint or limb again is the chronic phase. At the beginning of it you may still have some soreness or tenderness, which you try cold or hot packs on. There are also medicated analgesic creams that will reduce pain but not enough to put you at a higher risk of injury.

Keep stretching and strengthening the injured area as you return to play, even if you no longer feel any pain there. For the rest of your time playing that sport, the place you hurt yourself will always be just a little more vulnerable than the rest of you, so take a little extra care before and after play.

How long the healing process takes depends on what you hurt, how badly, how the acute phase was handled, and more. But every healing goes through more or less these phases, so you can at least get an idea of where you are.

If you live in Prince William of Fauquier County and you or a loved one is recovering from a sports injury, Haymarket Physical Therapy can help by devising a safe rehabilitation regimen and monitoring progress. To set up a screening, call one of our Northern Virginia locations.

Haymarket, Va.: 703-753-0261

Bristow, Va.: 571-719-3563

Bealeton, Va.: 540-905-7111


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