How To Treat Swelling

Swelling from an injury should be treated with a combination of 4 things: Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation.

Rest. This is especially true if the swelling or edema is in the lower body. Swelling in the foot or knee will increase with standing/walking and decrease with resting. Similarly, swelling in the wrist will increase when your arm is down by your side.

Ice. Whenever you have a new injury with swelling, treat it with ice as soon as possible! You have seen this with sports injuries where the athletic trainer immediately puts ice on the injured body part. Use ice, and not heat, as long as you have swelling present.

Compression. This is one area that you may not be as familiar with. Compression to the injured area can come from an elastic ace wrap or a compression sock/stocking. Compression stockings are tight and difficult to put on, but they are effective. They can be the easiest to wear because they do not have to be re-applied like ace wrap does. Ace wrap provides effective compression for a swollen knee, foot/ankle, elbow or wrist. It loosens with time and needs to be re-applied several times daily. It is important to apply the ace wrap so that the compression is felt but obviously not too tight to cut off circulation.

Elevation. Elevate the injured body part as much as possible while the swelling is present. This is especially important for knee, ankle and/or foot injuries. Prop up your leg so that the swollen area is higher than the level of the heart; it helps to lie flat on your back instead of in a recliner chair. Then use firm cushions and pillows to elevate the leg.

The most effective way to eliminate swelling is to do all four of these as frequently as possible. For example, to treat a sprained ankle: minimize walking, use crutches if needed, wrap it with an elastic ace bandage, keep the leg propped up, and ice it frequently throughout the day. Stay tuned, and I will post some videos of ace wrapping examples.

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I am a Physical Therapist and Ergonomics Consultant, based out of Columbia, SC. My passion is to write about and speak about pain/injury prevention. I started Pain Talks as a consulting business in 2018.

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