Injury Treatment: The R.I.C.E. Principle

Posted September 21, 2011 by

Sports physicians, physical therapists and certified personal trainers all agree that the RICE principle (rest, ice, compression and elevation) as outlined below is by far the best method of self-treatment for minor, acute (single occurrence), sports-related injuries. This includes things like twisted ankles, tendinitis, muscle strains/sprains and even fractures.

While proper warm-ups, cool-downs and a well-designed integrated training program greatly reduce the chance of injury and thus cover the area of injury prevention, there is still a chance (cue Lloyd Christmas, “… So you’re TELLIN’ me there’s a chance!”) that you may get injured during your training—in fact, the more intense your training program is, the more chance there is of injury. Even if you do everything correctly, things can happen outside of your control, so you must be prepared for situations which may occur.

Following the outlined steps below will ensure that you have optimal recovery and that your downtime is minimal from any minor injury you sustain, allowing you to get back to training safely as soon as possible.

R – Rest

Rest is very important because trying to work through the pain is going to make your injury worse and lengthen the recovery time. Depending on the severity of the injury, downtime could be anywhere from a few days to several weeks. The best rule of thumb is to keep resting until you can no longer feel pain at your injury site, and then gently and carefully ease back into training. If the pain returns, immediately cease exercise and continue resting.

Remember, while you may feel anxious to get back to working out so you don’t lose your progress, nothing will destroy progress like being unable to workout due to a serious injury for 3+ months because you didn’t take time off when it started as a relatively minor injury.

I – Ice

Icing your injury is critical to a speedy recovery. Swelling tissues near the injury block oxygen from reaching the tissue, hindering the repair that is necessary for your recovery. Ice reduces swelling and also provides temporary pain relief by numbing the area. Do NOT use heat on an injury—it will make the issue worse! Heat is for helping increase blood flow to SORE muscles, not to ease pain at sites of injury.

C – Compression

For sprains, strains and fractures which involve heavy tissue swelling, compression is an extremely important component of recovery for the same reasons as icing is important. The easiest way to compress an injury is to wrap the affected area firmly, but not too tightly, with an Ace bandage or other flexible wrap.

E – Elevation

Elevation helps to reduce blood flow to the affected area through manipulation of gravity. By simply keeping the affected limb higher than the heart, blood flow will be decreased to the injury site and tissue swelling will be minimized. Elevation, in conjunction with icing and compression, can greatly reduce potential swelling and sometimes mean the difference between many weeks of recovery and just a few days’ worth.

As an aside, anti-inflammatory pain killers such as ibuprofen and naproxen sodium are very helpful to take both for acute and chronic (recurring) injuries. With regards to chronic injuries, such as recurrent tendinitis or lower back pain, taking an anti-inflammatory before exercise can help prevent the issue from even occurring in the first place. Note that not all pain-killers are anti-inflammatory—be careful to check the active ingredient to ensure that it is either ibuprofen or naproxen sodium.

Please note: As I am not a physician, I am not qualified give you advice regarding more serious injuries you might sustain. You should consult with your doctor if such a situation occurs as they will be most able to help you deal with the issue. That being said, while it’s important to check with a medical professional for more serious injuries, you should still perform the steps above as a preliminary treatment to help minimize the damage caused until the appropriate person can take a look at it.

Comments on Injury Treatment: The R.I.C.E. Principle »

  1. Nice article thanks for that. The hardest part of the acronym is “REST”. Being quite a hard trainer myself I hate it when I injure myself and can’t train for a while. But you have to remember the rest is important to get yourself back into it, injury free and you’ll be safer in the long run. You will get your fitness, body back quicker than what it took to get in the first place. So I wholly agree with this article :))


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