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Joint Pain: Care Instructions

Your Care Instructions

Many people have small aches and pains from overuse or injury to muscles and joints. Joint injuries often happen during sports or recreation, work tasks, or projects around the home. An overuse injury can happen when you put too much stress on a joint or when you do an activity that stresses the joint over and over, such as using the computer or rowing a boat.

You can take action at home to help your muscles and joints get better. You should feel better in 1 to 2 weeks, but it can take 3 months or more to heal completely.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse advice line (811 in most provinces and territories) if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

How can you care for yourself at home?

  • Do not put weight on the injured joint for at least a day or two.
  • For the first day or two after an injury, do not take hot showers or baths, and do not use hot packs. The heat could make swelling worse.
  • Put ice or a cold pack on the sore joint for 10 to 20 minutes at a time. Try to do this every 1 to 2 hours for the next 3 days (when you are awake) or until the swelling goes down. Put a thin cloth between the ice and your skin.
  • Wrap the injury in an elastic bandage. Do not wrap it too tightly because this can cause more swelling.
  • Prop up the sore joint on a pillow when you ice it or anytime you sit or lie down during the next 3 days. Try to keep it above the level of your heart. This will help reduce swelling.
  • Take an over-the-counter pain medicine, such as acetaminophen (Tylenol), ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), or naproxen (Aleve). Read and follow all instructions on the label.
  • After 1 or 2 days of rest, begin moving the joint gently. While the joint is still healing, you can begin to exercise using activities that do not strain or hurt the painful joint.

When should you call for help?

Call your doctor or nurse advice line now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • You have signs of infection, such as:
    • Increased pain, swelling, warmth, and redness.
    • Red streaks leading from the joint.
    • A fever.

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor or nurse advice line if:

  • Your movement or symptoms are not getting better after 1 to 2 weeks of home treatment.

Where can you learn more?

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Care instructions adapted under license by your healthcare professional. If you have questions about a medical condition or this instruction, always ask your healthcare professional. Healthwise, Incorporated disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information.