Virtually everybody has experienced swelling for one reason or another. Whether it’s an allergic reaction, an injury, or some other medical condition, swelling can range from a little uncomfortable to extremely painful. Understanding why it happens and what you can do about it may allow you to get the treatment you need to help reduce swelling after an injury.
Why is There Swelling After an Injury?
Swelling is the buildup of fluid inside your body that happens after an injury because the body is trying to protect itself from further trauma. One example is an increase in blood flow allows more white blood cells to reach the injury site, but also causes fluid to accumulate in the area.
Swelling, also known as edema, is the body’s natural reaction to trauma. Even though swelling is intended to defend the body, too much of it can actually have the opposite effect. This is why it’s important to control the amount of swelling that happens after an injury.
What are the Different Types of Swelling?
Swelling can happen in both acute and chronic injuries. In acute injuries, swelling occurs within 24 hours and, if properly controlled, typically subsides after a few days as a natural part of the recovery process. For chronic injuries, the onset of swelling might be slower and not as easy to identify because it happens over a longer period of time. Both types of swelling are signs of injury and should be addressed.
Some of the types of swelling related to injury include:
- Effusion: The buildup up fluid inside a joint capsule such as the ankle or knee
- Edema: The accumulation of fluid in the body (not in a joint capsule)
- Hemarthrosis: Effusion with blood in it, often indicating a fracture or ligament tear
It’s important to know that any type of swelling is a sign of an injury or medical condition, so if it’s not clear what caused the swelling, or if you are concerned about swelling in your body, seek medical attention for a diagnosis.
How Do You Treat Swelling?
Swelling is most often treated with the following approach:
- Rest: Avoid using the injured area while you recover to give the body a chance to fully heal. This might mean staying off your feet for a few days and easing back into normal activities.
- Ice: Applying cold to an injury helps reduce swelling by constricting the flow of blood and other fluids, and is most effective in the 24-48 hours after an injury occurs.
- Compression: Using elastic bandages or active compression wraps helps prevent the buildup of excess fluid and removes cellular waste from the area for a faster recovery.
- Elevation: Elevating the injured area above the level of the heart can help decrease blood flow and slow the buildup of edema.
Cold and compression systems deliver both consistent cold and active compression at the same time. This combination enhances the benefits of therapeutic cold. When combined with elevation, cold and compression systems effectively maximize edema reduction.
You might also want to take an over-the-counter NSAID to help reduce inflammation and pain while you recover. If the swelling persists, or if you’re not sure why there is swelling after an injury, consult with a doctor to ensure that your injury does not need medical attention.
To learn more about about how to treat swelling and the other effects of an injury, download our free Complete Injury Recovery Guide today.