Injury Recovery with RICE: Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation

May 1, 2008 | Featured in the May 2008 Issue

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The first 24 hours after suffering an injury are a crucial part of the recovery process. If an injury isn’t properly cared for during that time, further damage can result, which only prolongs your bench time. So, following a game-stopping blow, aid the recovery process with RICE—rest, ice, compression and elevation.

Straining, spraining or pulling a muscle, tendon or ligament causes tears, which triggers bleeding in the damaged area. RICE relieves the injured area and reduces swelling to support the healing process.

Rest
can mean different things to different athletes. It all boils down to giving the injured area a break. If you sprain your ankle, avoid putting weight on it during the first 24 hours. Resting the injured area protects it from further injury and signals your body to stop bleeding and start repairing itself.

Ice is good for two reasons. First, it dulls the pain associated with most injuries. Second, it prevents further swelling in the injured area. When the tissue around your injury swells, your body can’t create scar tissue, which is needed for healing. Ice is nice, but don’t put it directly on your skin for more than 20 minutes at a time to avoid possible frostbite.

Compression stops excess fluid from surrounding the injury, thus minimizing swelling. A bandage will get the job done; just don’t wrap it too tightly. For instance, if you wrap your ankle and feel tingling in your foot thereafter, the bandage is probably too tight. For proper wrapping techniques, talk to your school’s athletic trainer.

Elevation is also used to combat swelling. Keeping the injured area at heart level or higher reduces the gravitational pull of fluid to the injury [e.g., prop up your foot if you suffer an ankle sprain].

If you still experience pain after a few days of RICE, see a doctor. After a few days, if you’re feeling 100 percent better, you still shouldn’t go full out in practice or a game, because overexerting yourself too soon can lead to re-injury. Instead, start with some light stretching. If you still feel slight pain, stop—because that’s your body’s way of telling you that you’re not ready.

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