As more and more people are heeding advice to take regular exercise, a few are bound to suffer a so-called soft tissue injury at some time – strains, sprains or bruising, for example, to muscles, ligaments, tendons or the capsule (lining) of a joint. The elderly and those who have taken up or returned to a sport late in life are more at risk than the young and fit.
A strain is a slight tearing of a muscle or the tendon attaching it to a bone, usually caused by overstretching it, whereas a sprain is a tear in a joint capsule or its supportive ligaments, due to twisting or forcing the joint beyond its normal range of movement.
Other soft tissue problems include capsulitis (inflammation of a joint lining due to a twisting or jarring injury), If pain and tenderness are on the outer point, epicondylitis is commonly known as tennis elbow, if on the inner side golfer’s elbow, but any activity that overuses these tendons can cause the same symptoms – painting a ceiling or hammering, for example.
Another condition, often in the news these days, is tenosynovitis or repetitive strain injury (RSI) – painful inflammation of the tendon sheaths in the hands, wrists or arms, which can be very disabling. Typists, factory workers or anyone using repetitive movements for hours on end are particularly prone. Regular rest breaks and more varied work will help prevent RSI developing.
When a strain or sprain first occurs, chemicals are released into the damaged tissues – they include prostaglandins, which sensitise nerve endings and cause pain, inflammation and swelling. Treatment which prevents or cuts down the release of prostaglandins is therefore likely to be helpful. Medicines known as NSAIDs – non-steroid antiinflammatory drugs – such as aspirin and ibuprofen, act in this way and the sooner they can be given after an injury the better . Ibuprofen is also available as a cream from pharmacists and on prescription – its commercial name is Proflex or Ibuleve. Studies show that it relieves the pain and other symptoms when rubbed directly into the injured area, without the risk of side-effects, nausea for example, that tablets may cause.
Lasonil is another cream that can help soft tissue injuries – it contains heparinoid, an anti-inflammatory agent. There are also soothing rubs, gels and sprays available to help ease muscular aches and pains. Sometimes an anti-inflammatory injection – into the tender spot of a tennis elbow, for instance – will be advised if the pain is acute.
First-aid measures in the initial 48 hours after injury can be very helpful and speed recovery. Rest the injured part as much as possible and raise it to reduce swelling (support an injured arm in a sling, for example). An ice pack will reduce bruising and swelling and will also relieve pain; contrary to popular belief, a hot bath will make matters worse, because it speeds up the flow of blood and increases swelling. Wrap the ice in a wet cloth or flannel to protect the skin from iceburn and frostbite and apply the pack to the injured part for ten minutes every few hours. A compression bandage such as tubigrip, worn continuously for at least two days, will help, too, but watch for numbness, tingling or the skin colour changing to white or blue – signs that the bandage is too tight.
Ideally, try to prevent injury occurring in the first place. Exercise, though undoubtedly good for you, should not be overdone. If you are unaccustomed to it, expert tuition is often advisable and do take things gradually to begin with.
Fiery Jack Rubbing Ointment, Ibuleve, Lasonil, PR Spray, Proflex. See also PAINKILLERS