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What is the RICE method? Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation explained.
RICE is a term commonly thrown around for sports injuries like sprains and strains. It's a great way to help your injuries heal faster - but how does it work?

What Is the RICE Method? Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation explained.


By Clark on May 6th, 2014

RICE. We're not talking about the food, but rather the recovery method for sports injuries, specifically soft tissue injuries that aren't serious enough for surgery/medical attention. It's an easy method that helps combat the main parts of an injury - swelling and pain. RICEing has been a proven method for many years now as a way to recover faster from surgery, sprains, and strains. Many doctors and physical therapists recommend the technique due to it's ease of implementation.

Say you go out for a run or jog and happen to twist your ankle. It's looking pretty bad; there's enough swelling to make it look like your ankle is a softball, and it hurts something awful. What do you do? Most would probably try to walk it off and just go home, wrap it up, and wait for it to heal, but you have work in the morning and need to start feeling better, now. Now, you can't heal yourself instantly, but there is a method to make the process a little faster: Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation, or the RICE method.

REST

Rest

This part of the regimen is simple, but perhaps the most important. Rest simply means to lay off the damaged tissue for a while. It's important to rest the soft tissues that you have injured so that they can heal. This might be as simple as using crutches to get around for a while, or even some good bed rest. Resting prevents you from re-injuring the already damaged tissues and helps alleviate some pain you might be feeling.

ICE
Ice means ice packs. Or frozen beans. Or a frosty steak. Or crushed ice. Anything that's cold will do here. Cooling the damaged tissues will help reduce inflammation and swelling, something common with soft tissue injuries. In addition to reducing swelling, cooling down the damaged tissues will help relieve some of the pain.

ICE

Some people find that a cold therapy unit can help make things easy, with special wraps for certain joints so you get good coverage where you need it. The same effect can be achieved with ice packs or any other cold object. Be sure to use an insulator like a t-shirt or cloth and check your skin every so often to make sure you're not getting frostbite. Ice for about 20 to 30 minutes at a time throughout the day, or as needed for your pain symptoms.

cold rush with different pads

A cold rush unit showing optional cooling therapy pads

COMPRESSION
Compression also helps defeat swelling. Compression can be achieved through wraps, sleeves, compressive socks, or compressive braces. It's important that the compression is tight, but not constrictive in nature. You want to compress the inflammation while not restricting blood flow. If you can, try to use a cold compression wrap. These are available in different forms, and often have gel packs that can be refrigerated or frozen and will last up to an hour or more. This way you take care of two steps at a time.

compressive ankle wrap from donjoy

A DonJoy compressive ankle wrap

ELEVATION
Elevation is the last and simplest step in RICEing. Elevation simply means that you need to keep the afflicted tissues elevated above the heart. If the injury is in your ankle, then prop the leg up just a tad above the heart level. If it's an elbow or wrist sprain, do the same. Pillows are great for this, you can stack them as high as you need. Plus they keep you comfortable.

pillow elevation

Proper elevation with pillows.

Bonus Method: Medication
Medication can help you while you're on a RICE schedule by reducing both inflammation and pain. The RICE method should help a bit, but if the pain is getting to be too much then try an ibuprofen. This is an over the counter drug that is relatively safe and has excellent anti-inflammatory and painkilling properties.
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