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A sore point – alcohol, injury and recovery

News & Events / A sore point – alcohol, injury and recovery

Ever strained something?

Most of us have. It might be a sporting injury, or the result of too much repetitive motion, or a bad fall. Soft tissue damage hurts – but if you’re reaching for a drink as a distraction, you might be making the pain last longer.

Alcohol affects everybody differently, but common hangover effects include:

  • Headache
  • Diarrhoea and nausea
  • Tiredness and trembling
  • Increased heart rate and blood pressure
  • Dry mouth and eyes
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Anxiety
  • Restless sleep[1]

When you’re injured, alcohol also slows down soft tissue damage repair.[2]

The body is made up of around 600 muscles, and your soft tissue is a collection of fibres built to deal with most of what daily life throws at it. We even have specialised cells that monitor how far muscles stretch and contract as we move.[3]  Sudden twists or jolts—like a fall or sport injury—can apply greater force than the tissue can tolerate. The fibres overstretch beyond their capacity and tear. Broken blood vessels bleed and cause swelling.

Alcohol has a complicated effect on injuries.  Studies show that it can slow the absorption of nutrients through the gut while acting as a diuretic, which can leave you dehydrated when your body is actively seeking both water and nutrients for injury repair.2 [4] Alcohol also acts as an analgesic, masking pain, which can lead to further and more serious injury in the future.  It also can widen blood vessels in the body, a process called vasodilation.2 When you’re injured, this leads to more swelling and a longer recovery time.

The immediate treatment for most sprains, strains and other soft tissue damage is RICE: rest, ice, compression (bandaging) and elevation.3 This is done to reduce swelling around the affected area and help any strains or micro tears in the muscles to heal.

Nobody likes sitting on the sidelines. Next time you pull up a little sore, make sure to look after your body; cut back on the alcohol and give yourself the best chance for a speedy recovery.

[1] Alcohol and Drug Foundation (2017) ‘Drug facts – Alcohol’. Melbourne: Alcohol and Drug Foundation, available at:

[2] Jung, M. K., Callaci, J. J., Lauing, K. L., Otis, J. S., Radek, K. A., Jones, M. K. and Kovacs, E. J. (2011), Alcohol Exposure and Mechanisms of Tissue Injury and Repair. Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, 35: 392–399. doi:10.1111/j.1530-0277.2010.01356.x

[3] Better Health Channel (2014) ‘Sprains and strains’. Melbourne: Department of Health and Human Services, available at:

[4] Vella, L. D., & Cameron-Smith, D. (2010). Alcohol, Athletic Performance and Recovery. Nutrients, 2(8), 781–789.


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