RICE is the acronym that stands for Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation. It’s a mnemonic, or memory device, that helps you remember quickly what to do when injury strikes a ligament, a tendon or a muscle.
The RICE method can generally be used even before checking in with your physician or physiotherapist. It is generally effective if employed as soon as possible within the first 24 hours following injury and continued for up to 48 hours. It’s simple to do and the benefits are evident, because sprains are often painful and swell rapidly.
If you think you’ve sprained an ankle or pulled a muscle in your back, it’s time to stop any activity that aggravates the injury and causes you pain. Especially if it’s a limb, avoid moving it and keep weight off it to prevent further damage. Crutches or a brace may be necessary if your leg is involved.
You may be able to exercise other muscles to prevent de-conditioning, but handle the injured area with care; in fact, it would be wise to check with your physiotherapist to determine which exercises won’t be harmful under the circumstances.
Cold is useful for its ability to prevent or limit swelling. It can also numb the affected area, which is a blessing if you are in pain. In applying cold to the injured area, be sure the frozen item has no direct contact with your skin; place ice or a cold gel pack or frozen peas or corn – which mould nicely to the shape of an ankle or knee – in a dishtowel to protect your skin from freezer burn.
Try to apply the cold/ice to the injured area as soon after the injury as possible and continue to do so for 20 minutes at a time, eight times each day, for the first 48 hours.
Compression also helps decrease swelling in the injured area. Use an elastic or tensor bandage to wrap the affected area, but don’t make it so tight that you prevent proper circulation in the area. If you wrap it too tightly, you’ll probably see swelling BELOW the bandage. Other signs that the compression bandage is too tight include numbness, tingling, coolness or increased pain.
Use compression to treat your injury for 48 to 72 hours. If you have a more severe injury, your physician may suggest an air cast or splints to provide more support while assisting with compression.
Elevation reduces blood flow to the injured area, consequently reducing swelling and keeping bruising down. Raise the injured area above your heart, if possible – especially when icing it – and cushion it with a pillow. Try to elevate the injured area for two to three hours daily.
Of course, depending on the injury, the RICE method is likely to be only the first stage in treating it. In general, you’ll want to have your physician assess the injury, especially if you can’t put any weight on the area or if the area is numb or misshapen. You may also want to take non-prescription non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) to relieve pain.