RICE: Treatment for acute injuries


R.I.C.E. is an acronym for a treatment principle commonly used for acute sports injuries. R.I.C.E. stands for Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation. The way an acute injury is treated in the first 24-72 hours can determine how quickly a person will recover from an injury. R.I.C.E. is great for treatment of minor injuries such as strained muscles, sprained ligaments, and soft tissue injuries.

R = Rest. This does not necessarily mean the body part cannot be moved or that immobilization is necessary, but one should reduce the stress placed on the injured tissues. This can be done by temporarily reducing activity and by using a splint. As an example, if you sprain your ankle, you should avoid the activity that caused the injury and decrease, not necessarily eliminate, the amount of weight bearing to the ankle.

I = Ice. Icing the area reduces the amount of blood flow to the area and reduces the metabolism of the cells. When an area is strained or sprained, the blood vessels in the area become damaged and fluid pours into open spaces in the tissue rather than staying in vascular system to carry nutrients and oxygen to the local cells. Icing the area reduces swelling by causing the blood vessels to constrict, slowing the flow of blood to the area. Because the flow of blood has been disrupted by the soft tissue injury, local cells do not get the oxygen needed and further injury occurs secondary to hypoxia. Icing the area slows down the metabolism of the cells which, in turn, reduces the oxygen requirements of the involved cells, reducing the hypoxic injury. Reducing blood flow to the area in the first 24-72 hours allows the blood vessels to repair themselves and reduces secondary hypoxic injury. Ice also acts as an anesthetic, numbing the injured area. Ice should be applied for 20 minutes at a time so as not to cause freezing injury to the skin. Apply ice to the injured area for 20 minutes then take the ice off for an hour before reapplying. Apply ice in this cycle. Also, apply a thin layer of toweling between the ice and the skin to protect the skin. In our previous example, ice can be applied to the injured ankle for 20 minutes at a time.

C = Compression. Using compression over the injured area reduces swelling that will occur in the area. Reducing the swelling will greatly reduce the recovery time of the injured area. Compression can be applied with an elastic bandage wrapped snugly but not too tightly around the area. This is especially important to counteract swelling while the body part is in a dependent position. On an injured ankle, a compression wrap is important to use, especially while you are up on the ankle. The swelling, fluid, flows down hill, and if you are up on your feet doing your daily activities, the ankle is the lowest body part and fluid flows here.

E = Elevation. Elevation uses gravity to cause the swelling to flow from the injured area back into the body. Think of the swelling as fluid. Fluid always flows down hill, and the steeper the grade, the faster it flows. The higher the elevation, the better. Elevate the injured area higher than your heart. For an injured ankle, lie down on the floor and elevate the ankle on a couch or chair.

Following the R.I.C.E. principle can shorten recovery time by as many as two to three weeks. This gets you back to sports, work, and life more quickly.

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