"When the stress of an activity becomes too much for your body," says sports podiatrist Rob Roy McGregor, "you develop inflammation. Twinges of pain are warnings to 'go slow.' But inflammation means 'stop.' "

When confronted by the four classic symptoms of inflammation--swelling, pain, redness and heat--"Consider self-help," advises McGregor, "before turning to a doctor."

Self-help, however, could be "disastrous," if you're faced with an acute or chronic ache. If you're unsure whether you've got an injury that needs immediate medical attention or a sportache you can treat yourself, "Phone your doctor," he suggests, "and talk about the problem."

Meanwhile, the basic at-home treatments for inflammation: Mechanical

Rest: "You must give the part of your body that hurts a brief opportunity to heal itself." With upper-extremity sportache, you might want to try a sling, available at a pharmacy. For lower-extremity sportache, try crutches or a cane.

Compression: Try an elastic bandage--not too tight.

Elevation: Raise the inflammed joint higher than the next nearest joint to let gravity help your body by draining excess fluid. Thermal

Cold: Wrap ice cubes in a washcloth and apply to injury immediately to reduce swelling. When you're ready to start exercising your injured limb, apply cold for 10 to 15 minutes before and after regular, gentle movement.

Heat: Once swelling has subsided, many experts recommend heat. Apply hot towels, hot-water bottle or soak in a hot tub no longer than 20 to 30 minutes. Chemical

Aspirin: "The best, most readily available, least expensive and least harmful nonprescription anti-inflammatory drug is aspirin."