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By Caitlin Burke

Injuries are a fact of active life. Learn whether you need to see a doctor, and how to recover completely.

How Bad Is It?
Getting Better
Staying Better


Snowboarding, skating, surfing - or even just walking down the stairs - we all get bumps every now and again. Most of the time we're fine, but before you get right up and keep going, take a moment to figure out how hurt you are. The following are important signs that you may need medical attention right away. Ignoring them could drastically increase your healing time - or worse.

Pain: Pain from a bump is to be expected, but if the pain is sharp, searing, piercing or burning - or if it just doesn't go away - you may need to go to the emergency room.

Swelling: Some swelling is normal, too, especially around a bruise or a minor sprain, but if the swelling is severe - especially if there was a popping sound - see a doctor.

Numbness or tingling: Numbness or tingling may mean that a nerve was hit or is being pinched. Sometimes this goes away quickly, as when you bump your "funny bone"; if it doesn't, ask your doctor what to do next.

Motion: Do you have your full range of motion where you were injured? How about the pressure of your body weight? If not, get medical attention.

Head injuries: If you banged your head, and feel nauseated, dizzy, or confused, or if you have vision problems, go to an emergency room right away.


OK, so the biggest injury is to your pride, but that bump could use a little relief, too. There's no reason to just grin and bear it. Remember RICE (rest, ice, compression, elevation)? That advice has been updated to PRICE - just add pain relievers. If you get a bruise or a sprain, take these steps to feel better and speed healing:

Pain relievers: Ibuprofen, naproxen, and acetaminophen will make you more comfortable after an injury. If you still feel that you need pain relievers after 72 hours, call your doctor for advice.

Rest: You know you're supposed to! Stay hydrated, take naps, and get plenty of sleep at night. A well-rested body is better able to heal.

Ice: When you've just been injured - whether it's a banged up knee or a twisted ankle - ice is the thing. The hot tub is great after you've had a couple of days to recover from a big bump, or if you're dully sore from the previous day's excesses, but heat can actually irritate a fresh injury. Apply ice for about 20 minutes at a time, several times a day. Any more and the temperature difference is not as helpful - you can even risk hurting your skin.

Compression: Compression can offer support as well as reducing swelling. Apply it evenly to avoid shifting the swelling or cutting off circulation. Put on an Ace wrap in a diagonal, crisscross pattern; horizontal wrapping can act like a tourniquet. There are also neoprene sleeves, designed to provide smooth, even support for specific body parts.

Elevation: Try to keep the injured spot higher than your heart; this way gravity can help drain the fluid from a swollen area, which makes you more comfortable as well as speeding healing. Also, try to minimize the time you spend on your feet. (See Rest!)


Listen to your body as you recover from your injury. Stretch gently, and ease back into your activities. If you're still using pain relievers after three days, call your doctor, and consider asking about physical therapy to help you recover from a bad fall. Using a splint or crutches can speed up your healing, too. Prompt attention and taking the time to heal are the best ways to recover fast and get back out there.


Modified June 2001.