Rest, ice, compression, and elevation (RICE) have been recommended by medical providers for mild-to-moderate soft-tissue injuries since 1978, when Dr. Gabe Mirkin published his findings in the Sports Medicine Book.
Today, RICE remains one of the preferred methods for treating and speeding up the recovery of sprains, strains, and bruises. Here, Dr. Bonaventure Ngu, our expert at Premier Spine Institute, explains what the RICE protocol entails.
Step 1: Rest
The first step involves rest. More activity causes more pain and inflammation if your muscles are inflamed or irritated. Rest the injured area for at least two days and avoid lifting heavy items.
Rest doesn't always involve bed rest. For example, if you've injured your leg and want to remain active, you can take the weight off your leg by using crutches.
Prolonged rest can lead to muscle weakness and loss. A little under a week is enough to allow the soft tissues to heal. Don't massage the injured area, as doing so can cause more damage to the tissues
Step 2: Ice
Inflammation is one of the ways the body increases blood flow to the area where healing is needed. However, inflammation can cause pain and swelling when it gets out of control. An ice bag covered in a soft towel can be used to reduce swelling and pain.
You can apply ice several times per day for about 15 minutes at a time, as long as you protect the skin by preventing direct contact with the ice.
Icing the area may not be helpful if you suffer from diabetes or have vascular issues, as these conditions can make you overly sensitive to cold temperatures.
Step 3: Compression
Compression, when done right, doesn’t slow blood flow; it increases it, enabling oxygen and nutrients to get to the damaged tissues and speed up recovery.
Use an elastic bandage to wrap the painful area, but make sure it’s not so tight that it interrupts blood flow. Signs that you’ve wrapped your injury too tight include tingling, coldness, and numbness.
Step 4: Elevation
Elevation involves raising the injured area above heart level to eliminate fluid and reduce swelling. For example, if you have a sprained ankle, propping it up on a chair may help.
When you should seek medical help
The RICE protocol isn’t suitable for broken bones or other serious injuries. If pain and inflammation don’t improve in a week, or if they get progressively worse, contact us to schedule an appointment to get expert advice and get relief from your symptoms.