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What are the tell tale signs of carrying an injury I didn't know I even had?

While an acute injury is usually obvious straight away (rupture muscle, broken bone), some occur gradually over time, becoming progressively worse.

Unfortunately chronic issues can develop if you fail to give adequate attention to long term injuries, as well as those which have an immediate impact.

But how can these injuries be prevented and treated?

There are some common warning signs that an injury which requires treatment has occurred and knowing what these are will help you to recognise when there may be a problem. Injuries, especially sports related ones, can sneak up slowly and become increasingly worse before becoming a real problem.

The following is a list of symptoms to look out for.

1. Tenderness in a specific area.

Tenderness in a particular muscle, joint or bone, felt when pressure is applied, can be an indication of an injury. This is particularly so if pressing on the same point on the opposite joint or part of the body does not elicit a similar pain or sensation.

It is important to see a medical professional if you are suffering from tenderness of this nature.

2. Joint pain

It is important that you never ignore any sort of joint pain, especially in the wrists, elbows, ankles or knees.

Any joint which remains painful for 48 hours or more should be examined by a physician. Pain in the wrist, elbow, ankle and knee is rarely the result of a muscular problem and may be a sign of something more serious.

Elbow pain

3. Limited range of movement

When a joint is affected by a reduced or limited range of motion, it may be the result of swelling, even if there isn't any immediately obvious.

Swelling will reduce how far a joint can move in each direction and is a significant sign of an injury.

Again, it can be easier to diagnose by comparing each side of the body and checking for any significant differences in how the area feels or reacts. Seek medical advice if there is a discrepancy.

4. Swelling

Although typically fairly obvious and usually seen very easily, it is possible to experience swelling without any outward sign.

Swelling may also be accompanied by stiffness and pain.

Sometimes a joint may also start to click as it is moved, an effect produced when the tendons snap together or over one another. This happens if swelling has pushed the tendons out of place and into a different position. Unexplained swelling should be checked out by a doctor or other qualified medical professional.

Swollen ankle showing bruising and the application of an ice pack

5. A tingling sensation or numbness

It is really important that you never ignore any sort of numbness or tingling. Patients should always arrange to see a doctor, physiotherapist or other qualified professional if they experience tingling or numbness as this can be an indication of nerve compression and a possible serious injury.

6. Weakness on just one side

It can be difficult to accurately compare strength between the two sides of the body. However, doing so can help you recognise if there is a serious or significant injury.

One method people often use to check for one sided weakness is to lift the same weight on each side and compare results. This is easiest to do when assisted by a physiotherapist or other physician with experience of sports-related or other types of injuries. They may use specialist equipment or manual exercises to test for comparative weakness and are very skilled at determining where there is a possible issue.

Image of a runner holding his ankle in pain

I have one of these signs. What do I do now?

Those experiencing one or more of the above symptoms or warning signs should now take steps to prevent any further injury or long term damage. It is vital not to allow the problem to be further exacerbated or for swelling to become any worse.

Start by trying to identify any obvious causes for the symptom, such as a recent fall, poorly configured equipment or missed step when undertaking physical activity. Remedying the situation can begin once the root source of the problem has been identified. First and most importantly, immediately cease the causal activity and seek treatment straight away.

Close up of a female out running and holding her hamstring

Sports injuries are common and anyone suffering from a sports related condition should take action at once to prevent any further damage or injury. Immediate treatment can begin once the source of the injury becomes apparent (diagnosis is key).

The very first steps for treating soft tissue and other acute injuries such as bruises, tears and sprains is to reduce, and prevent further swelling. Soft tissue damage can lead to internal bleeding and swelling. Loss of movement, pain and discomfort can be felt as a result, all of which can then go on to limit the muscles and the way in which you are able to use them.


The most effective treatment for any injury of the soft tissue is RICE. This stands for Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation.

Rest: This means allowing the tissues enough time to heal by resting the affected joint or area.

Ice: For between 24 and 48 hours following an injury of the soft tissue, apply ice intermittently. This goes some way towards managing and reducing any inflammation and swelling. It is important to remember not to apply ice directly to the skin of the affected area.

It should also not be applied for a prolonged period. This means ensuring that there is a towel or other protective layer between the ice and the skin itself and limiting the application time to a maximum of twenty minutes every two to three hours. Some studies have suggested that it may be helpful to alternate icing, with ten minutes on and ten minutes off.

Compression: Swelling and bruising can be reduced and prevented by applying a compression bandage to the affected area. An elastic or wrap bandage can be used in most cases. It is important to ensure this is not applied too tightly to prevent cutting off the blood supply and potentially causing more damage.

Elevation: Keep the injured limb raised. This will hopefully minimise buffing and swelling.

An infographic showing the difference between applying ice and heat following an injury

Acute sports injuries

If you suffer an injury when participating in sporting or repetitive activity, you should immediately:

  • Stop the activity straight away.
  • RICE - Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation.
  • If the pain, discomfort and swelling is severe, or continues for more than 24-48 hours, it is best to consult a doctor. They will be able to properly diagnose the injury and offer advice about appropriate management and treatment.

Long term or chronic injury may require additional input from a physiotherapist or occupational therapist. It may take days, weeks or even months of careful rehabilitation before things return to normal. Sufferers need to be patient and to learn how to pace themselves throughout their recovery to prevent a relapse.

The good news is that most people recover completely following a sports related injury, although many notice the affected joint remains weaker than previously. Strengthening exercises and additional supports, such as bracing can help to protect the area.