When it comes to twisting an ankle shooting hoops or bruising a shoulder in a cycling accident, most people are familiar with the R.I.C.E. method of treatment. Even if you don’t know that R.I.C.E. stands for rest, ice, compression and elevation, you inadvertently do these things. It’s practically programmed in our brains from childhood. But just because we’ve been doing it for decades doesn’t make it right for your sports injury. I’m not knocking R.I.C.E. Its components are undeniably effective in treating minor sports injuries. But (and it’s a big, J-Lo-style but), you rarely need to perform each and every step. Take a look at when each component is appropriate to apply.
Rest – I’m not going to lie to you. Any injury can benefit from rest, especially the first day or two (or three or ten) after the incident. Rest and limit movement of the injured area until all swelling has gone down and it’s no longer painful to use the affected body part.
Note: As you heal, some therapeutic movement — perhaps in a pool or with a sports injury specialist — can actually speed up your recovery by increasing blood flow to the affected area. Alternative therapy, including acupuncture, electrostimulation,sports massage and Rolfing, may also be a great addition to the healing process.
Ice – Need a cure for an injury-induced cankle? Ice it. A cold compress is effective if – and only if – you experience swelling. This basically rules out cold treatment for shin splints, pulled calves and any stress fractures. For optimum results, apply ice immediately and for no longer than 20 minutes at a time with at least 20 minutes of no ice; repeat as often as needed. To keep from freezing your tush off, wrap frozen cubes or an ice pack in a towel. A cold water bottle works swimmingly in a pinch.
Note: Once your injured area has returned to normal size, apply heat to help ease any lingering pain and to get nutrient-rich blood running in to save the day.
Compression – Dislocations and sprains can benefit from compression by helping to keep you in one piece and reduce swelling in the area. Anything considered bruised (think knee contusion) won’t feel any better with added pressure, so be sure you’re compressing with caution…or not at all. Use soft bandage tape to tie around the injury and be sure not to tie the bandage too tightly, as this can cut off circulation – the opposite of what you’re trying to do.
Note: Compression sleeves and athletic tape are often worn during and after a sporting event to help prevent injury in the first place. The concept behind these is to promote blood flow to a specific area and provide stability for reduced muscle fatigue and faster recovery.
Elevation – No one wants to draw attention to their weak link, but propping a sprained ankle on your desk at work can do wonders for bringing it back down to size. However, this works best for boo-boos below the knee, because the idea is to raise the injury above the level of your heart (preferably while laying down). Yeah, gravity’s pretty gravy.
Note: To reduce swelling in your wrists or hands, elevate the injury above elbow level. Using a sling would be the most comfortable option. After all, you don’t want to be more uncomfortable than you already are.