What is the RICE Method?
The RICE method is a simple series of steps for treating a variety of injuries, including sprains, fractures, and contusions (that’s bruises to the rest of us). It’s effective as both first aid and as a form of long-term treatment. It’s fast, simple, and should be done immediately after any athletic injury. For our purposes, we’ll be addressing the method as it applies to sprains.
The RICE is actually an acronym for Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation. Definitely makes it easier to remember, especially if you need to treat yourself while in pain. This protocol should be used for at least 48 hours after the initial injury, or longer based on the grade of the sprain. Please not that the RICE method does NOT replace medical care.
Step 1: Rest
Rest simply means stop using the sprained joint. This is both the simplest and most difficult step. This is especially true of athletes, who are already especially prone to sprains, as most athletes “push through the pain.” It’s equally difficult if it’s a joint that is constantly in use, such as an ankle sprain. While this may make you tougher than most, it’s certainly not helping your injury.
Step 2: Ice
Apply ice, and ice pack or a cold compress directly to the injury as soon as possible. If using ice cubes, make sure they’re in a plastic bag or wrapped in a towel as the ice could cause cold injuries to the skin. It’s also important to remove the cold after 15 to 20 minutes and allow the joint to warm again, also for at least 15 to 20 minutes. Follow this alternating pattern as often as you can, or at least 3 times a day.
Step 3: Compression
Compress the injured joint with an elastic bandage or wrap. Wrap the joint as tightly and securely as possible, but be sure not to cut off circulation. To keep the blood flowing properly, wrap the injury looser on the side closest to the heart to maintain proper circulation. Once the injury has been properly wrapped it’s best to secure the end of the bandage with safety pins or medical tape so that it doesn’t loosen over time.
Step 4: Elevation
Keep the injured joint elevated above the level of the heart. If you have a sprained foot, lie down and prop it up on a pillow. If you have a sprained thumb, lie down and prop up the hand. Not all injuries are convenient to elevate, but it will be extremely helpful to do so.
Why does it work?
The core purpose of the RICE method is to prevent swelling. When a joint is sprained, the surrounding tissues are damaged. This causes some internal bleeding and some buildup of fluid as the body tries to prevent more serious injury, which is the long way of explaining swelling. Unfortunately, that same swelling results in the pain and stiffness associated with a sprain. It can also slow the recovery time of sprains. Instead, follow the RICE method for the shortest, most comfortable recovery from your sprain.