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Why use the R.I.C.E treatment method after an injury?

There is nothing more frustrating than a severe sprain or strain, especially for those that like to stay active. At some point in life, most of us will experience such an injury. If you have suffered a sprain recently, it’s likely that a physio or medical professional has advised the use of the RICE treatment method. This simple mnemonic stands for Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation and was originally introduced by Gabe Mirkin in 1978. This short article will use medical journals and professional opinions to give you a deeper understanding of RICE,  how to properly execute each of the four components, which work together to make it one of the most known and fathered recovery methods.


The ‘Rest’ element of RICE treatment lasts consistently throughout this whole course of recovery.. The purpose of this is to allow the body time to repair the issue. If this is not done further damage and bleeding is a common issue, making the injury last longer. A 2003 study by Eisenhart found that rest, when used to conjunction with weekly physio sessions was the most effective way for helping the injury heal. Resting does not mean you have put your whole life on hold though. Keeping the problem area rested is all that is important.  If you hurt your arm seek professional advice and get a sling to prevent further damage. The same for if you damage your leg or ankle make sure you get some crutches. This will allow you to remain mobile, but also rest the damaged area at the same time.


‘Ice’ is a powerful tool when you have an injury.  This is because not only does it reduce bleeding around the injury but also helps to numb the surrounding areas, keeping pain at bay. The problem is that most people apply it incorrectly. It is very important to use crushed ice as this disperses the cold more evenly across the injury. Secondly and most importantly ensure that the ice is wrapped in a tea towel to prevent damage to your skin. Lastly ensure that you only apply the ice for 20 minutes every 4 to 5 hours. Heat therapy is another form of treatment sometimes prescribed when you have a muscular injury. So why use ice instead of heat? Ice is found to be twice as effective as heat therapy according to a 1982 study, which found its participants took two times longer to recover if heat therapy was used instead of ice.


This part of RICE treatment is probably the most arduous aspect of the protocol, and understandably so. Compression requires you to wrap the injured area in bandages in the immediate aftermath of the trauma. It is important that you remember to remove any compression stocking or bandage at night as this could cause discomfort whilst you sleep. There is little scientific evidence to suggest that the use of bandages and compression stockings is effective in the treatment of an injury such as a sprained ankle. According to a 1998 study, there is no clear recommendation as to how long you should compress an injury for, so it is essential that you seek advice from a medical professional. 


Now this is an inconvenient part of RICE treatment but there are some tricks to make it easier. For this method to be effective the problem area needs is raised above your heart. A simple way of doing this is resting your foot on a stool and pillow when you are on a sofa if you have a leg or ankle injury. It is slightly harder if you have a wrist or arm injury, but it is hugely beneficial to your recovery. ‘Elevation’ helps to reduce internal bleeding and pain. Expert advice does suggest that elevation is a useful way of helping an injury to heal because it helps to reduce ‘Edema’ (inflammation). A key piece of advice when completing this aspect of the treatment is to wriggle your toes/fingers (depending on the injury) to ensure you retain full movement and blood continues to pump to these areas.

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Probably the best way to prevent rather than treat injuries is to have a well designed rehab and/or training program once you have the green light from your physio or G.P. Generally speaking building up some muscle tissue, improving your balance or simply getting more flexible and mobile could all help to maintain a healthy, more robust and strong body and therefore helping to avoid another sprain to happen. Therefore investing in a gym membership or a personal trainer to give you a tailored training plan  is always a good thing to do.

Hopefully you can now see the benefits of RICE treatment. For this method to be most effective it is essential that you partake in every stage. This will help your body heal more quickly. Always seek out professional advice from a physio or medical professional after an injury. They can help build a bespoke recovery plan, which will help you get back to your fit and healthy self as quickly as possible.