Are you suffering from swelling after an injury or operation?
So often people struggling after an injury or operation with persistent swelling. This swelling can cause all sorts of problems both in the short term where it can switch off muscles and cause a lot of pain, and also in the longer term where it can become thickened and prevent progression of rehab.
Why does swelling happen?
Swelling is usually in response to an injury to the body tissues. Detector cells in the blood notice an injury and alert the body to make the chemicals needed for repair and recovery. These chemicals are then transported to the area and deposited to do their work. This is combined with a thicker fluid that holds these chemicals in the area needed whilst they do their job. This is great whilst these chemicals are needed for repair, but within a few days this process is started and the swelling is no longer needed as the next stage of healing has started. At this point the swelling becomes a hindrance. Muscles don’t like working in an environment where extra inflammatory chemicals and fluid are found. They tend to be reluctant to work which is not ideal when most often getting your muscles up and running again is important for recovery. It is hard to progress your walking without a limp if your quadriceps (thigh) muscles are not kicking in properly.
6 Effective Tips To Reduce Swelling
Help your body to get rid of the extra fluid by using gravity to aid fluid movement in the right direction. If you have swelling in your leg, then elevate the foot above the hip and gravity will nicely move the swelling up towards the hip where it is removed by the Lymph (fluid management) system.
There is some evidence to support the idea that a gentle compression of a limb aids swelling reduction in the area. By compressing from the outside of the limb you will help to reduce swelling in an area and move it away from where it is not needed. Ask your physiotherapist, doctor or pharmacist for advice on how to achieve this safely.
The evidence is still not 100% certain as to whether hot or cold has the best effects at which point in the recovery process. You will see elite sports professionals being ice bathed, and others being warmed. Our suggestion is to keep cold treatment for injuries and swelling less than 3 days old, no longer than 10 minutes at a time, and carefully applied to avoid ice burns with a layer protecting you from the ice (such as a wet tea towel). If you have the time to try 1 minute of cold followed by 1 minute of hot, then give it a go as there is some suggestion this reduces swelling more. See which works best for you. The principle is to vaso-constrict (make smaller) the blood vessels for a period to squeeze fluid out of them and away. We just don’t know exactly which does this best, but try it and make the decision based on your own swelling. For effective cold therapy known as cryotherapy there cryocuff cooler which delivers cold to the affected part in an effective controlled manner and for a longer period of time.
By far the best method of fluid movement is to use the muscles in your body to pump the fluid out of the area. If the swelling is in your leg, then pumping movements of the ankle to work the calf muscles will push fluid out of the leg. Firm regular movements are best as well as performing them often. Try for 20-30 repetitions every 30 minutes or so in the first two weeks. There is nothing like getting up and moving gently to reduce swelling, so long as it is comfortable to do so.
5) Eat well
We have no definitive evidence, but it is commonly felt that anti-inflammatory foods such as turmeric and ginger can help reduce swelling in the body. Try introducing these to your diet alongside limiting the intake of wheat which can also be inflammatory to some people.
6) Listen to your body
Most importantly listen to your body and what it is telling you. Swelling and pain are usually closely linked. The inflammatory chemicals in swelling, which are initially there to help the healing process, are also painful. This is clever because most acute injuries need a period of rest and less movement, so giving you pain warns you to listen to this advice from your body and aids recovery. Once this initial healing period has passed, it is vital to move and gradually get going. Listening to your body and resting a little more if you get an increase in swelling and pain is important in the early stages. Try not to push on through. Take the time to rest and utilise the points we have mentioned above so that you can get up and going again. If swelling in the leg which increases with weight bearing you may want to try using crutches to help reduce the pressure on the joints for a period of time.
Physiotherapy During and After Swelling
Physiotherapists can help you with the following:
- massage to help reduce the swelling
- acupuncture can help to reduce swelling
- taping can help to reduce swelling
- rehab programme to help switch on the muscles affected by the swelling to start working again
- give you sport specific exercises to help you return to sports you were doing prior to the injury or operation
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Physiotherapy at Home or Work
If you have a problem with swelling whether from an injury, other medical condition or following an operation our physiotherapists can help you as described as above.
Your mobility is likely to be restricted when you are recovering and rest is recommended – our sports/musculoskeletal physios can see you at home or work avoiding the difficulty with travelling.
The physiotherapist will ensure they work alongside your Consultants diagnosis and advice to get you back to the activities/sports you loved before your injury as quickly as possible but as safely as possible.
Take Home Points
- Swelling can cause problems and stop muscles from working.
- There are effective ways to help keep your swelling down.
- Physios can help with pain relief, reduce swelling and in your rehabilitation
Post by Leanne Plenge, Physiotherapist and Bristol Manager.