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First Aid for Sports Injuries - the Critical First 3 Minutes

Brad Walker provides advice on the actions to take in those first few critical moments following an injury.

A lot has been written over the years about sports injury management and ongoing treatment. There is a lot of information about what to do in the first 48 to 72 hours after an injury, and without a doubt, the most effective, initial treatment for soft tissue injury is the RICER regime. This involves the application of (R) rest, (I) ice, (C) compression, (E) elevation, and obtaining an (R) referral for appropriate medical treatment.

Most people would agree that the R.I.C.E.R. regime is the first place to start, but what about those initial moments following the injury. Those first few vital minutes, before you even think about applying the R.I.C.E.R. regime.

Imagine this...

You are the sports trainer for a local "Under 14's" soccer team (or maybe you are a concerned parent). It is early on a cold winter's morning, and the team has been on the field for only a few minutes. You turn your back for a second as two players race for the ball and collide heavily. One goes down hard and groans loudly. You turn back to see one of your players lying motionless on the ground. You race onto the field, heading straight for the injured player. There is no time to waste, and your 3 minutes have already started. What do you do next?

Your First Priority: Do No Further Damage!

Check to see if the injured player is in any further danger. If so, you need to control it, preferably by removing the danger (i.e. stopping the game) or removing the player.

Once there is no more danger to the player, you need to get a response from them. Ask if they

  • can hear you
  • can they open their eyes
  • know what their name is
  • know where they are

If you cannot get a response, get someone to call an ambulance or doctor immediately. Then check their airway, breathing, and circulation.

If you can get a response, apply the S.T.O.P. regime. This involves (S) stop, (T) talk, (O) observe, and (P) prevent further damage.


Stop the injured player from moving! They must stay as still as possible to prevent further damage and allow you to assess the injury.


Ask the injured player what happened

  • How did it happen?
  • What did you feel?
  • Where does it hurt?
  • Does it hurt anywhere else?
  • Have you injured this part before?


While talking to the injured player take a mental note of what the player is doing

  • Are they strangely holding themselves?
  • Are they lying in an unusual position?

Check to see

  • Is there swelling or bleeding at the injury site?
  • Is the injured area deformed or out of shape?
  • Is there a difference when compared to the other limb or side?
  • Is it sore or tender to touch?
  • Can the player move the injured part?

Prevent further damage

It is time to assess the seriousness of the injury.

Is it a minor injury?

  • Is it a bump or a bruise that does not impair the player's physical performance?
  • If so, play on. Provide a few words of encouragement; monitor the injury, and apply the R.I.C.E.R. regime to be on the safe side.

Is it a less severe injury?

  • Is it a sprain, strain, or a severe bruise that impairs the player's ability to play?
  • If so, get the player off the field and apply the R.I.C.E.R. regime as soon as possible

3. Is it a severe injury?

  • Does the injury affect the head, neck, face, or spinal cord?
  • Does it involve shock, excessive bleeding, or bone fractures and breaks?
  • The treatment of these types of injuries goes way beyond the simple soft tissue injury treatment. Seek professional help immediately.

Well done

Your 3 minutes are up, and you have successfully prevented any further damage to the injured player, you have assessed the injury and prescribed the recommended treatment strategy.

Page Reference

If you quote information from this page in your work, then the reference for this page is:

  • WALKLER, B. (2007) First Aid for Sports Injuries - The Critical First 3 Minutes [WWW] Available from: [Accessed

About the Author

Brad Walker is a prominent Australian sports trainer with more than 15 years of experience in the health and fitness industry. Brad is a Health Science graduate of the University of New England and has postgraduate accreditations in athletics, swimming, and triathlon coaching. He also works with elite level and world champion athletes and lectures for Sports Medicine Australia on injury prevention.