This hits close to home this week, because my knee is injured and I'm attempting to slowly nurse it back to help. But first of all, the best way to deal with an athletic injury is to have a professional athletic trainer or doctor look at it, especially if it is serious. If you have that option or someone knowledgeable available to you, take advantage. And if the injury is obviously bad (a break to a bone or something that causes an inability to move the injured part), you have to seek out a doctor whether you like it or not. But since we don't always have the time or money to deal with tiny aches and pains at medical offices, here are a few steps you can follow on your own to help things along.
Listed below will be some basic, simple guidelines for treating various athletic injuries. For the most part, this applies to sore muscles, which could be a result of fatigue, hyperextension, a pulled muscle, a hurt ligament/tendon, or (obviously the worst) a tear of some kind.
For all muscle, tendon, and ligament injuries, however, you should know that it takes a long time to heal. Bruised, sprained and weakened body parts that we hurt during exercise tend to be in areas that we use very often in everyday activities. That means if you hurt your knee, ankle, or leg, it's kind of hard to stay off of it enough to allow it to heal while still remaining functional in everyday needs such as work. But do your best.
The first step is rest. Stop what you're doing, sit down, and plan on staying less active until it is fully healed. Just because it starts to feel better doesn't mean it is, and you'll feel the proof of that if you try to compete again too soon.
The next step is to ice. Inflammation is a common side effect of an acute muscle or tendon injury. Ice is usually a post-workout technique. If your injury does not cause inflammation, ice might not be the best move, and you'll feel it if it isn't. Your body will know instantly whether or not the ice feels good or bad. If you are going to ice, it is important to follow the proper protocol. Putting ice directly on the skin can cause burns, and if there isn't enough barrier between the ice and your body, it can get incredibly cold and will actually make it more difficult for your muscle tissue to heal. So wrap your injury and put the ice in a towel before using it. Ice for 15-20 minutes about three times a day.
If ice isn't right for you, heat might be. Sometimes soreness and stiffness is best dealt with by using a heating pad on the area. But do not apply heat after exercise. Use it to loosen muscles and relieve tightness.
The next step is anti-inflammatory medication. AKA Tylenol. Motrin is ok, but what you really want is just Acetaminophen and that's all Tylenol is. Motrin is ibuprofen. Both will reduce pain, but many studies show preference to Tylenol where athletic injuries are concerned, and Tylenol is easier on the liver.
Another option to reduce inflammation and increase the likelihood that you don't push yourself too hard is to wrap it. Compression is another useful injury tool, and for this you can use ACE bandages and tapes. Don't wrap so tight that you start to tingle or feel numb in places, but it should be secure enough that it isn't loose.
If you are working through an injury, another side effect can be favoring other muscles and movements to avoid pain in the injured area. But this will probably cause an injury somewhere else. Try to move like normal as best as you can.
If you don't start to feel better after several weeks, make an appointment with a doctor because there is probably worse going on that may require surgery.