Acute pain is pain which comes on suddenly and is usually short induration. Ankle sprains, pulled muscles or waking with a stiff neck are all examples of acute pain. Although acute pain is not often serious, it can be a sign of an underlying problem and should be investigated to rule this out. Left untreated, acute pain can become chronic, making it much harder to resolve in the long run.
Strains, Sprains and Pulled Muscles
Strains and sprains happen when the ligaments that connect the bones to one another are damaged. This usually happens as a result of twisting or turning awkwardly. The signs of strains and sprains are pain, tenderness, swelling, bruising or redness of the affected area.
You might not be able to use the affected body part normally. For example if you have ankle sprain, you might not be able to put weight on that foot. If you have wrist sprain, you might not be able to use your hand normally.
Pulled muscles are very similar to sprains but usually refer to the muscles of the back, neck, shoulders or hamstrings. In contrast, sprains usually refer to the ankles, feet, wrists, hands and knees. Ankle sprain is the most common of these conditions.
Strains, sprains and pulled muscles can take from 2 to 8 weeks to get better, and severe sprains can take months to fully heal. Avoid strenuous activity during this time to prevent further damage, and use the RICE principle to reduce inflammation and swelling.
The RICE Principle
Rest – Rest the affected area as much as possible.
Ice – Apply ice for 20 – 30 minutes as soon as possible after the injury. Repeat 3 - 4 times daily until the swelling is reduced. Please don't ice an injury after this initial swelling! For more on this topic, click here.
Compression – Wear a compression bandage to reduce swelling, but do not wrap it too tightly. It should be supportive yet comfortable. If you feel any tingling or numbness, loosen your bandage slightly.
Elevation – Raise the affected body part to the level of your heart any time you are sitting or lying down. This improves circulation and stops the blood from pooling around the injury.
Waking Up with a Stiff Neck
Waking up with a stiff neck has affected most people at some point during their life. It can be caused by bad posture, carrying heavy bags on one shoulder or having insufficient neck support during sleep.
You can avoid waking up with a stiff neck by making sure you have pillows which are low but firm, keeping an eye on your posture and using a backpack rather than a shoulder bag.
If you do wake up with a stiff neck, a heat or cold pack can help. Try to keep your neck moving throughout the day and apply firm but gentle massage. You should feel better within 24 – 48 hours, although this problem can last up to a week.
If you have other symptoms such as fever, headache, nausea, dizziness or confusion, you should contact your physician to investigate further.
Acupuncture for Acute Pain
Acupuncture helps to relieve pain in several ways. Firstly, it helps to reduce inflammation which is responsible for pain, swelling and tenderness. If you have acupuncture treatment very soon after your injury, your acupuncturist may choose to focus on points further away from the affected area. This reduces the risk of aggravating the injury and increasing pain.
Acupuncture affects the nervous system and blocks pain signals from reaching the brain. It also stimulates the release of endorphins, the body's natural painkillers. It relaxes the surrounding muscles and improves circulation which can speed up the healing process.
When you visit an acupuncturist for acute pain, they will take a full medical history and ask about the exact location of the pain, the type of pain and any other symptoms. This is to identify any deeper, underlying issues which may also need attention. It is important to give as much detail as possible so that you can be treated effectively and reduce the risk of your acute pain becoming a long-term problem.