Inflammation is a natural part of the healing process following an injury, and in small doses, the inflammatory response helps your body prevent infections and jump-start healing. But too much inflammation can “undo” some of those benefits, causing a lot of swelling and pain that can limit both function and recovery.
At his Houston, Texas, practice, Joshua D. Harris, MD, often recommends RICE therapy initially for patients with sports injuries and other acute soft tissue injuries to help manage pain and swelling and promote better healing. Here’s how RICE works and when it’s typically used.
RICE stands for rest, ice, compression, and elevation — four separate elements that combine to support the initial healing process.
While long periods of immobility can worsen symptoms, resting plays an important role in healing and recovery after many acute injuries, like strains and sprains. Rest lets your body divert more of its resources to the healing process while preventing more serious injury and excess inflammation. Depending on your injury, Dr. Harris may recommend using crutches or a sling to avoid putting stress on the injured site.
Ice therapy helps reduce inflammation by temporarily restricting blood vessels in the area. Ice packs are great, but if you don’t have one, don’t worry: A bag of frozen peas works well, too.
To get the most from ice therapy, wrap the cold pack in a cloth and apply it to the injury site for 20 minutes at a time. Don’t apply ice directly to your skin, and repeat applications several times a day.
Compressing the injured area with an elastic (compression) bandage promotes fluid drainage, reducing painful inflammation. Just be sure the bandage isn’t so tight that it restricts blood flow. Not only can restricted circulation interfere with healing, but it could cause additional tissue damage.
Elevating the injured area above your heart helps your tissues drain excess fluid more efficiently. When you’re resting, use pillows to prop up the injured area. (And while you’re at it, apply some ice.)
The overarching goals of RICE are to help reduce inflammation and swelling that cause pain and interfere with healing and function. One of the best parts of RICE: You can do this treatment at home without any special equipment.
When to use RICE therapy
RICE is often the first line of treatment for many soft-tissue injuries, including:
- Ligament injuries
- Strained muscles
- Tendon injuries, like hamstring strain and tennis elbow
- Overuse or repetitive use injuries
RICE isn’t meant for long-term use; in most cases, patients follow the protocol for a day or two after their injury before moving on to other treatments when needed.
Although RICE is widely used for many musculoskeletal injuries, it’s not always the best choice. You should seek medical care right away if:
- You suspect a fracture
- A joint or bone is misshapen
- You have severe pain
- You cannot move or place any weight on the limb
- You’ve had an accident that involved a head injury
- The injured area is profusely bleeding
- Your symptoms become worse
After any injury, it’s always a good idea to call the office, so we can determine if you need to be seen right away or if it’s OK to proceed with RICE at home until the next available appointment.
The right treatment for your injury
As a type of “TLC” treatment, RICE therapy can go a long way toward relieving pain and promoting healing after many soft-tissue injuries. But the real key to recovery is seeking medical care right away to make sure the treatment you’re using is truly beneficial and not just making the underlying problem worse.
To learn more about the cutting-edge treatments that can help you feel better and recover faster, call 713-441-8393 or book an appointment online with Dr. Joshua Harris today.