R.I.C.E. is an acronym that many sports trainers and athletes use to remember how to treat a minor muscle injury. It stands for rest, ice, compress, and elevate.
Resting is one of the most effective ways to start your healing process. Your injured muscle will be weak and vulnerable to further injury, especially in the first few hours. Take a break from moving it to help it heal.
When it comes to icing, avoid frostbite by never placing the ice directly on your bare skin. Instead, wrap it in a thin cloth or towel before applying it to the injured area. Apply ice for 15 to 20 minutes at a time, and allow your skin to return to normal temperature in between icing. To maximize the benefits of icing, ice three times a day with at least 45 minutes in between applications.
An elastic bandage wrapped firmly around your injury can help minimize swelling by creating compression and preventing the buildup of fluid. It can also help ease pain by keeping the injured area somewhat immobilized. The bandage may not be enough to immobilize the injured area entirely, but it will provide some support and remind you to keep it still. If the bandage causes tingling or numbness, remove it and rewrap it more loosely. It shouldn’t be so tight that it causes discomfort or interferes with your blood flow. Even gentle compression can help keep fluid from collecting around the injury.
Elevating an injury above the level of your heart will helping minimize swelling by allowing fluid to drain away from the area. If you can’t raise it above your heart, try to keep the injured area at the same level as your heart or close to it. If you suffered an injury to your buttocks or hips, you should try lying down with one or more pillows wedged under your buttocks and lower back to help lift it.
The day after suffering an injury is often the most painful. Swelling will likely be at its worst a few hours to a couple of days after your injury occurred. Bruising will continue to develop for the first few hours and may be very noticeable the next day. Continue using the R.I.C.E. treatment method for the first 48 to 72 hours after your injury. During this time, you should keep the injured area wrapped with an elastic bandage, elevate it when you can, and apply ice every few hours. During the first three days following a muscle strain or sprain, don’t apply heat to the area. While it may feel soothing, heat can increase circulation and worsen swelling. Think to yourself... ice is nice!
Keep in mind that you can also perform an "ice massage." Apply ice directly to the injury and move the ice frequently, not allowing it to sit in one spot. Many athletes will perform an ice massage where they use a frozen block of ice and massage into the area of discomfort, to prevent prolonged direct contact of the ice to one specific location.
Here are some tips for icing:
- Use a Ziploc bag with ice cubes or crushed ice. Add a little water to the ice bag so it will conform to your body.
- Keep paper cups filled with water in your freezer. Peel the top of the cup away and massage the ice cup over the injury in a circular pattern allowing the ice to melt away.
- Use a bag of frozen peas or corn. This option provides a reusable treatment method. However, once used for icing, the defrosted food should not be eaten if you return it to the freezer to use again!
- There are many products sold that can be reused to help you ice an injured body part. Many of these are designed to conform to a specific part of the body.