When you search online for what do following a specific injury (i.e. a sprained ankle or tendonitis), one of the first things an article or video will tell you is it to get some RICE, before moving on to other courses of treatment.
Before you wonder why post-injury advice is pointing you to the kitchen, let’s break down what RICE really means.
What is the RICE treatment?
The RICE method is commonly recommended treatment for acute soft tissue injuries. It’s an acronym that stands for Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation and is used to treat sprains, strains, and even some bone injuries.
Using RICE helps to decrease pain and inflammation with simple methods and minimal effort, so your body can start to heal. You want to start RICE as soon as the injury occurs (ideally within the first 24 hours).
How should I use RICE?
Stop any activity that causes you pain or soreness to the injured area and carefully avoid such use for 48 hours. If it’s a leg injury, stay off it entirely (when possible). This prevents the injury from getting worse.
Within the first day, get a cold gel pack or bag filled with ice, or frozen peas or corn and wrap it in a damp towel (there should be no direct contact between ice and your skin). Apply it to the injured area, and the cold will help reduce pain and swelling. Use only for 10 to 20 minutes, 4–8 times a day, leaving time in between for your body to return to normal temperature.
Wrap an elastic or tensor bandage around the injury, helping to minimize swelling. Be careful not to wrap it too tightly because it can prevent proper circulation. Signs that it’s too tight include:
- Increased pain
- Swelling coming out below the bandage.
With more serious injuries, special boots, air cast, and splints can be prescribed to help with compression and give you more support.
Position the injured area so it’s at or above the level of your heart, especially when you’re applying ice. You can sit or lie down and prop up the injured body part using a pillow. This should reduce blood flow, and therefore swelling, to the area.
When should I get physiotherapy?
After using RICE principles for at least 48 hours, it’s a good idea to see a physiotherapist and get the injury assessed. RICE helps the pain and swelling to subside so that your physiotherapist can properly assess your injury. Your physiotherapist will work with you to create an individualized treatment plan working towards improved strength, mobility, function, and to help prevent re-injury.
If using RICE doesn’t reduce the pain and/or swelling within 48 hours, or if it gets worse, you should contact your doctor.
Once you’ve followed through with RICE principles, contact pt Health for guidance through the next steps of your recovery.