HARM: Four Letters That Could Heal A Sports Injury Faster

Most people who exercise regularly know that if you get an injury, you treat it using the acronym RICE (and if you don’t know about that, scan down). However, the other night I was at the launch for a new product for pain and the speaker GP Dr Roger Henderson, was also talking about another acronym HARM that anyone afflicted with a sprain, strain or pulled muscle should do as soon as they can after the injury occurs (and for the next 48 hours).

black and white photo of a woman in sports kit holding her ankle. It's coloured red to signify pain or injury

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This was a new one on me – despite the fact that I write about health every single day, I, therefore, figured I might not be alone in never having heard it before – and with the London Marathon looming (where Dr H told us a staggering 4,000 runners need attention because they’ve pulled something en-route) I thought it might come in handy to post it.

What Does HARM Stand For?

HARM covers all the things you shouldn’t do in the acute phase of an injury – that’s at the very least the first 48 hours – as they can increase issues like swelling and pain. That means…

H is for Heat: That’s right at first you need to cool injuries – heat just aggravates them.

A is for Alcohol: This dehydrates ligaments which can interfere with healing

R is for Run: Or jump up and down or go on a five-mile hike. Rest is key.

M is for Massage. As nice as rubdown might feel it can again aggravate an acute injury. You should wait 5-7 days afterwards according to Dr Henderson.

What Does RICE Mean?

If you saw the intro to this and thought, well I haven’t heard RICE before either, here’s what you need to know about that.

RICE stands for the things you SHOULD do after you experience a pulled muscle, sprain or strain. It stands for…

Rest: Stop moving as soon as you can and rest the affected limb as much as you can for 24-48 hours.

Ice: Cold helps take down the swelling. You should ice the area for about 20 minutes every few hours (while you’re awake, you don’t need to do it when you’re asleep). I have a packet of peas in the freezer specifically for leg icing – the bag moulds nicely around your leg and doesn’t drip.

You can also buy freezable gel packs, or try products like Koolpac Kool Bandage which you chill and then wrap around the affected area. Click to see what’s available here

Compression: Compressing the area helps stop fluid collecting in the area which reduces swelling. You can wrap a bandage around the area, or, if the injury is below the knee, my secret weapon is flight socks.

They’re perfect. Easy to put on, they stay in place even when you’re moving and, you can use them later!

Elevation: Again, if you can elevate the area you reduce swelling and inflammation – put your leg on a cushion trying to get it so it’s higher than your hip. It’s harder to do with an arm injury, but you might want to try a sling.

There’s been a new addition to the RICE acronym in recent years – an extra R which stands for refer yourself. If things aren’t getting better within 48 hours then go and see a doctor or physio as you might have done more damage than you originally suspected.

Why The Acronyms Matter

Because doing both of these things can help speed up how fast you recover from a simple injury like a sprain, strain or pulled muscle.

They aim to reduce swelling, inflammation and pain and prevent any further damage being done to whatever or wherever it is that you’ve hurt.

If you found this useful, you might also want to know how to reduce your risk of injury,

Have a look at our post on how to tell if you’re at risk of shin splints – and what to do about it here.

Or, if you’ve already got an injury and are worried about how you’re going to keep up your fitness, then you might like have a look at our lists of ways you can do your cardio when you’ve got a leg injury.

Cat image: freedigitalphotos.net

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