Making RICE for Sprains, Aches & Pains

peas_kneesR.I.C.E. is an acronym referring to a method for handling sprains, strains, or other soft tissue injuries. The elements of RICE – Rest, Ice, Compress, Elevate – are mostly common sense, but there are some specific tips that help make each of these more effective.  We commonly recommend RICE treatments along with a massage therapy treatment for aftercare, preventative therapy, and to speed healing and recovery after an injury.   Here’s the scoop…

R (Rest): Chill out, especially the first 24-48 hours after an injury. Rest the body part and give the muscle tissues a chance to begin healing. You might think that “walking it off” makes sense, but it doesn’t.  Many injuries result from micro or macro tears in muscle and fascial tissues, or inflammation of joints, tendons, and ligaments.  ALL of those body parts benefit from a little time to recover before they’re put to use again.

I (Ice): Icing the injury or painful muscle helps reduce pain and may speed healing. Your massage therapist also has access to special creams that pro due a similar effect. You don’t need fancy ice packs, but using something that will conform to the body part, like a bag of frozen peas, works best.  Do NOT ice a sprain or strain more than 20 minutes at a time – you’ll actually inhibit healing. And, if you’re a competitor performing soon after the injury occurred, the muscles need to stay warm, so icing is not a good idea.

C (Compress): Compression of soft tissues can help reduce swelling. You can wrap with an ACE bandage snugly, but take care NOT to cut off blood circulation. If your fingers or toes become cold, blue or tingle, re-wrap a little more loosely It’s also a good idea to unwrap the injury twice a day for 15-20 minutes to give the muscle time to reinvigorate.

E (Elevate): Keep the injured muscle higher than your heart. Elevate at night by placing pillows under the injured or painful area. Elevation of the injury reduces bruising and swelling. Just do this the first day.

After a day or two of RICE treatment, many sprains, strains or other injuries should begin to feel better and actively begin to heal. But if your pain or swelling does not decrease after 48 hours, make an appointment to see your primary care physician or go to the emergency room, depending upon the severity of your symptoms.

Once the healing process has begun, light massage can help reduce the formation of scar tissue, and improve tissue healing. Your therapist can also show you gentle stretches that don’t force muscles or contribute to re-injury. A stretch should never cause pain.

When you’ve moved beyond the initial 48 hours and healing is noticeable (swelling, throbbing or sharp pain and bleeding have stopped), heat may be helpful. Moist heat will increase blood supply to the damaged area and promote even faster healing.

After your injury has healed, begin your exercise program again SENSIBLY, starting with easy weights, shorter and slower running and cycling or warm-up sports.  Be very conscious of your form and listen to your body.  Don’t push too hard or you will re-injure yourself.