A body in motion tends to take some punishment. If you’re not a little beat up, you’re probably not playing, training, or competing hard enough. But if you don’t take proper care of your minor sprains, blisters, and other sports-related injuries, you could end up prolonging the problem … or making it worse.
Here, experts explain the proper ways to care for your sports-related bumps and bruises.
First of all, don’t pop it. A blister forms when a pocket of fluid collects beneath the skin at the site of an injury, which for athletes is usually caused by friction. “The blister serves as a natural protective dressing,” says Shari Lipner, MD, PhD, an assistant professor of dermatology at Weill Cornell Medical College. Instead of bursting that bad boy, you want to wash it with mild soap and water, swab it gently with alcohol to disinfect, and then loosely bandage it to protect it from contact, Lipner says.
If the blister is so big or painful that popping is necessary, she advises elevating the injury site for a few minutes to drain fluid and pressure. Next, sterilize a needle by holding it in a flame for a few seconds—long enough for it to glow. Let it cool, and then poke two small holes on the edge of your blister. Gently drain the fluid, and then—leaving the deflated skin in place—repeat the washing and bandaging steps above. Do all this, and you’ll avoid infection while speeding healing, Lipner says.
SCRAPES OR CUTS
Like a blister that’s lost its protective shell, you’ll want to handle a scrape or cut in much the same way you would treat a blister, Lipner says. So, again, clean with a mild soap and water, and then apply alcohol or hydrogen peroxide to disinfect the wound site. “Moisture speeds healing,” she says. So dab on a little Vaseline before bandaging. Repeat these steps daily until your boo-boo is history. ANKLE SPRAIN
Roughly 25,000 people a day suffer an ankle sprain. But it can be tough to differentiate between a sprain and a broken ankle, according to the American Orthopaedic Foot & Ankle Society (AOFAS). If you notice serious swelling, if pain persists on the inner side of your ankle, or you can’t stand on it, you need to see a doctor for an X-ray. But if the sprain seems mild, the AOFAS recommends the R.I.C.E. method for treatment: rest your ankle by keeping weight off of it; ice it to keep down the swelling; apply compression wraps for the same reason; and elevate your ankle as often as possible to reduce pressure. RUNNER’S KNEE
If you feel a pain in your kneecap during or following long runs, you’re likely experiencing patellofemoral pain syndrome, a.k.a. “runner’s knee.” Weak hip or butt muscles can cause your upper leg or knee to angle in as you stride, which is the most common cause of the condition, concludes a 2014 study in—where else?—the journal Knee. While cross-training exercises can strengthen those muscles that help prevent runner’s knee, once you have it, resting up until the pain subsides is your best course of action, the study suggests. If that’s not an option, uphill running changes your gait in ways that should prevent further pain or problems. Lots of hill climbs are in your immediate future.
Your Achilles tendon connects your heel to your calf muscles. While research from the UK and South Africa concludes that there are lots of reasons you might be prone to tendonitis—from weak calf muscles to a genetic predisposition—the treatment is the same: You need to rest. The more you work your angry tendon, the worse the injury will become. Regular icing is also helpful to speed recovery. Once you’re pain-free, calf exercises can help you avoid a repeat injury.
MORE COMMON INJURIES
Shin splints, hamstring strains, tennis elbow, and foot pain caused by plantar fasciitis are all typical sports injuries—and all treated the same way: You have to take it easy. Giving yourself a break at the first sign of pain and staying away until you’re healed are the surest ways to mend your body and prevent prolonging or exacerbating the injury. If rest doesn’t seem to be working, you need to see a doctor.