As a musculoskeletal specialist, I see countless patients suffering from sprained ligaments or tendons. Often, these injuries are mistreated, as patients follow outdated treatment protocols that actually disrupt the body’s ability to heal itself naturally. When the body’s healing process is disrupted, tendon or ligament damage heals incorrectly - this is what often necessitates PRP and prolotherapy treatments down the line. At the time of acute injuries, utilizing the right home care treatments that utilize your body’s natural healing power, will prevent costly therapies and injections down the road.
In terms of outdated modalities, patients have commonly subscribed to the notion of R.I.C.E. (rest, ice, compression, and elevation) to treat tendon/ligament injuries. Often this is done in combination with ibuprofen or other anti-inflammatory (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug, NSAID) medications. While this treatment method does help the patient feel better as it reduces swelling around the injury, it also reduces the body’s ability to heal. Inflammation plays a key role in healing, as it allows the body to transport repairing cells to the damaged tissue. Ice and anti-inflammatories disrupt this process,slowing the rate of blood perfusion and therefore reducing the efficacy of healing.
Furthermore, a recent study at the University of Queensland has demonstrated that immobilization of a damaged tendon results in delayed healing, increased recovery time, and can even worsen joint damage. What this means is that treating injuries with the M.E.A.T. versus R.I.C.E. protocol is a no-brainer, because following R.I.C.E. can actively worsen the injured joint and prolong patient’s restriction from their normal activities.
A better treatment for damaged ligaments is to follow the M.E.A.T. protocol, which stands for movement, exercise, analgesia (Tylenol not NSAID's), and treatment. Studies have indicated that mobilization of injured ligaments and tendons results in improved healing - in fact, following the M.E.A.T. protocol can decrease the need for PRP or prolotherapy by 70%. The earlier an injury is mobilized, the faster patients are able to return to their normal activities, and have a significantly increased range of motion as compared to injuries treated using the R.I.C.E. approach.
For the best chance of recovery after ligament/tendon injuries, begin the M.E.A.T. protocol as quickly as possible. And instead of applying ice in the R.I.C.E. protocol, apply a cold, wet washcloth over the injured area and wait till the cloth reaches body temperature. When the cloth reaches your body temperature this means your body has heated up the cloth and hence blood flow and circulation have increased around the injured body part. Repeat the cold, wet washcloth for 2 -3 rounds several times a day till injury recovers. If this fails to effectively treat the injury, it’s possible that the ligament/ tendon suffered more significant damage, and prolotherapy or PRP may be necessary for a full recovery. PRP and prolotherapy are often used in conjunction with M.E.A.T., which promotes faster healing and increased mobility of the injured ligament/tendon.
Even when using the more effective M.E.A.T. protocol, the reality is that patients only regain 50-70% functionality. The best way to effectively treat injured tendons or ligaments so they heal and return to 100% functionality is through PRP and prolotherapy in conjunction with the M.E.A.T. protocol, as opposed to relying solely on M.E.A.T.