With fall approaching, contact sports such as hockey are well underway in Kelowna. Increased sports participation also coincides with an increase in injuries, most often musculoskeletal in nature. The most common cause of soft tissue injuries in contact sports are muscle contusions and strains. A contusion is the result of a direct, blunt force, blow to an area of the body (typically a limb) that can cause damage to muscle fibers. In hockey, these types of blows may be due to contact with another player (usually knee-on-knee collisions), or slashes with a hockey stick. Symptoms of a contusion can include localized pain at the site of the blow, swelling, pain with movement, limited range of motion, and sometimes a palpable mass.
A contusion involves a partial rupture of the muscle(s), leading to the rupture of the capillaries (blood vessels), which then leads to increased bleeding. A hematoma (a collection of blood outside of the blood vessels) can then develop, as well as swelling and inflammation. Despite the damage to the tissue, the affected muscle is still able to function to some degree. The healing process involves the formation of scar tissue and the regeneration of muscle tissue.
There have been numerous studies published over the course of several years that have investigated the best treatment approaches for contusions. Immobilization (or rest) of the affected muscle has been of interest to researchers for years. As it turns out, recent research suggests that the length of time a muscle is immobilized is a key factor in the healing process. Several animal and human studies have now indicated that a short period (24-48 hours) of immobilization immediately following a contusion injury allows the scar tissue connecting the muscle fibers to gain enough strength to withstand future muscle contractions in order to prevent re-rupture. Forms of immobilization may include taping, bracing, or the use of crutches for lower limb injuries. Furthermore, researchers emphasized that long-term immobilization should be avoided in order to promote return to motion and activity.
After the short period of immobilization, gradual movement of the injured area should be started within pain tolerance. Several studies suggest that this early mobilization following a short period of rest plays a great role in helping the muscle fibers to regenerate.
In addition, most people are familiar with the "RICE" principle, which stands for Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation. As you may have guessed, the immobilization research above can be summarized by the concept of "rest". Ice, compression, and elevation are also methods that help to limit the bleeding at the injury site. Research suggests that the application of ice causes short term vasoconstriction and decreased blood flow, but does not have any long term vascular effects. Therefore, applying ice immediately following a contusion injury has the greatest therapeutic effects. Compression of the area and elevation can help to decrease subsequent swelling to the injured muscle tissue.
If you have sustained a contusion or muscle injury please consult a health care practitioner to determine the best course of treatment for your condition. The above information summarizes some of the current research on muscle contusions, however, healing time and specific treatment protocols will vary by patient and severity of the injury.
This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.