Using RICE for Injury Repair

RICEAnyone who has worked with athletes or been an athlete themselves, has likely heard the term RICE. This term stands for Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation. Imagine a sprained ankle, the image of a person laying on the couch with their foot wrapped in ice and elevated on a pillow is fairly common, and displays all of the aspects of the RICE method.The idea behind RICE seems to make sense, so let’s break down each stage:

  • Rest – generally, if a person has a sudden injury we want to cease activity for a period of time to avoid any further injury and allow the body to begin the healing process. It is important, however, to not remain inactive for too long. Light stretching or range of motion exercises early on after injury will help to keep a joint mobile and prevent scar tissue from forming.
  • Ice – this is becoming more of a controversial topic. The idea behind the use of ice, is that it causes vasoconstriction (narrowing of the blood vessels). This slows the blood flow, and as a result is supposed to decrease inflammation and swelling around a joint. Heat, on the other hand, does the opposite. It causes vasodilation (widening of the blood vessels), which then allows more blood flow and inflammatory chemicals to come to the site of injury. Inflammation is a natural healing process by the body (click HERE to read our blog about painkillers and inflammation to learn more).
  • Compression – again, this is another method to control inflammation, as well as mobility. Depending on the injury, it may need to be stabilized or immobilized for a period of time. As with rest, and depending on the severity and type of injury, gentle mobilization needs to be incorporated into rehabilitation of the injury to avoid scar tissue and movement compensations developing.
  • Elevation – this step is to help the body with blood flow. Arteries take blood to the tissues, and veins work hard to pump the fluid back to the heart. There is another system in the body called the lymphatic system, which also carries fluid to and from the body tissues and is also involved in healing. This other system, however, relies on many of the body’s other tissues and systems to help move fluids to different areas of the body. With the help of gravity when elevating an arm or leg, it helps to get fluids flowing in the right direction and decrease swelling.

At Optimal Chiropractic, one question we get asked on a DAILY basis is what patients should be doing at home for acute injury and pain. Many physical therapists, chiropractors, and trainers are now moving away from the RICE method. For our next blog, we will discuss why many practitioners no longer recommend this method of treatment, and some alternatives you could be using instead.