Whether it’s a slip on the ice, moving a heavy object, or playing a “friendly” game of basketball with your buddies, injuries to soft tissues, joints and muscles have a way of happening. When you find yourself hunched over, clutching a twisted ankle or a sore back, think RICE – Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation.
Rest gives the body time to heal. If it hurts to move that part of your body it’s the body’s way of telling you to stop.
Ice should be applied with a thin, cloth covering (like a pillow case) to prevent ice burns. A 16-ounce package of frozen peas is a convenient ice pack; it’s inexpensive, reusable and will conform to virtually any affected body part. You can also use a one-pound plastic bag filled with 2 parts water and 1 part alcohol (rubbing, not ethanol). Seal it and put it in the freezer and you’ll soon have a slushy ice pack (the alcohol lowers the freezing temperature of the water).
Ice, slushy or solid, should be applied for up to 20 minutes. Areas with little fat or extremities like fingers and toes should only be iced for 10 minutes. Frozen gel packs are colder than ice, so they should only be left on for 10 minutes.
Applying ice to the area for too long can actually cause a rebound effect. The body will think the area is “freezing” and will dilate the blood vessels to increase blood flow and tissue temperature. This increase in temperature can cause more swelling and pain, so watch the clock!
Compression (use of a pressure bandage) can also prevent or reduce swelling. Wrap an elastic bandage around the affected area so it’s snug – but not tight. The elastic bandage should be taken off every 4 hours and reapplied.
Elevation means raising the injured area above the level of the heart by 12 inches, which also brings down swelling. The easiest way to elevate is usually by propping the affected body part up with pillows.
RICE should be followed until the bleeding has stopped, the swelling is gone, the pain has subsided, and the tissue temperature is normal.
Using RICE for the first 24-48 hours only and then switching over to heat is incorrect and can cause more bleeding, swelling, and prolonged healing time.
Anyone with Raynaud’s, diabetes, sensitivity to cold, or any medical condition with reduced blood flow to the arms or legs should not use RICE therapy. If you have one of these conditions, please see your doctor for care.