Muscle strain, muscle trauma, joint pain treatment: Nurse Mia Ross explains the difference in Part II of a three-part Winter Sports Series:
Resting my sore quadriceps after my recent skiing adventure gave me plenty of time to think about musculoskeletal pain and its remedies. Although often grouped into one category, pain is treated differently depending on the source. Not all pain is created equal. I explain the differences in muscle strain, muscle trauma, joint pain and give you the best information to treat each.
Acute Muscle Strain
Muscle pain is usually the result of overuse and the onset of pain is sneaky. While I was cruising down the mountain, my legs felt great. Too great. It wasn’t until much later in the evening, long after Apres-ski had ended, that I began to feel it; a dull pain in my legs that I couldn’t exactly identify.
Acute Muscle Strain Treatment
Tried and true, R-I-C-E is still best. Rest. Ice. Compress. Elevate. Make sure to place a barrier between the skin and the ice pack to protect against the cold (if you’re not using an Ace bandage for compression), ice in 15-20 minute intervals as needed (the max should be 20 minutes on with 20 minutes or longer off), and elevate the sore area above the heart. Metabolites, including lactic acid, build up in the muscle tissue after overuse and may cause soreness. Drinking water helps flush these metabolites out of the system. If you need pharmacological pain relief, both over-the-counter ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) and acetaminophen (Tylenol) are effective for short-term pain relief. Choose your favorite and follow the directions. If you can’t take oral medications, you can get a prescription for a topical NSAID (Voltaren) from your primary care provider.
Muscle trauma happens when we experience a forceful external blow. This happens when wiping out on hard ice, crashing into other skiers, or getting kicked in the leg with a ski boot. All of these I may or may not be familiar with. Trauma usually results in a bruise because capillaries located within muscle fibers rupture and bleed, causing discoloration under the skin. Pain may be immediate or delayed, depending on severity.
Muscle Trauma Treatment
When the tiny capillaries inside muscle fibers tear and cause small hematomas, inflammation occurs. This is a healthy response and aids in healing. Research shows that taking NSAIDS (ibuprofen, Advil, Motrin, Naproxen) after muscle trauma is a bad idea; it increases bleeding and slows the healthy inflammation process. Therefore, acetaminophen (Tylenol) a better option. Again, R-I-C-E helps in this case, too.
Acute Joint Pain
Joint pain is obvious very soon after activity starts and you might feel pain after your first trip down the mountain. This can be caused by several factors ranging from dehydration to arthritis.
Acute Joint Pain Treatment
Joint pain should be treated differently from muscle pain. In this case, NSAIDs are fine to use if the joint becomes inflamed. However, if the area does not show signs of inflammation (swelling), acetaminophen (Tylenol) may be better for pain control. Topical salycilates, like over-the-counter Apercreme, have been shown to provide relief to sore joints. If joint pain persists long after the ski trip ends, it’s important to see your healthcare provider sooner rather than later to discover the exact cause of the pain and implement a pain management plan.
There are many treatments touted to relieve musculoskeletal pain. Professional athletes immerse their sore muscles in cold water for relief. Some people report decreased muscle pain after massage. A new technique using mud packs has become a popular method to ease joint pain from osteoarthritis. More legitimate data is needed to help us better understand the nature of these musculoskeletal conditions and their treatments. But for now, no matter what hurts for you, rest is the best! Instead of doing that last run down the mountain at the end of the day, call it quits. If you wake up in pain, you may want to take the day off. When it comes to preventing muscle and joint injury, it’s always better to be safe than sorry.
Click HERE to read Part I of Nurse Mia Ross’ Winter Sports Series where she explains muscle rubs to treat sore muscles.