Sprain and Strain Treatments

Understanding the RICE Method for Acute Sprains

The RICE method is considered the best treatment for a sprain or strain. It's important to note that if you are unsure of the severity of your sprain or strain, you should talk to your doctor before beginning any treatment or rehabilitation.

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How to Treat a Sports Injury with R.I.C.E. Technique

"RICE" stands for:

Let's look at these methods in greater detail, along with products that may help you treat the more common injuries such as wrist sprains, twisted ankles, hamstring strains, and groin pulls.

1

Ice Packs and Wraps

Woman holding ice pack on her shoulder
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Ice treatment is most commonly used for acute injuries. If you have a recent injury (within the last 48 hours), where swelling is a problem, you should be using ice treatment rather than heat.

Ice packs can help minimize swelling around the injury, and you can make your own if you don't have a commercial ice pack with you.

Ice treatments may also be used for chronic conditions, such as overuse injuries in athletes, in order to control the inflammatory response. If you are using an ice pack for a chronic injury, however, ice the injured area after activity. It's less helpful to ice a chronic injury before activity.

To properly ice an injury, it's usually recommended that the ice is applied for no longer than 15 minutes, and no more frequently than once per hour. Applying ice for too long, or too often, may cause problems on the surrounding skin.

2

Heating Pad

Woman using heating pad
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Heat treatments can be used for chronic conditions to help relax and loosen tissues and to stimulate blood flow to the area.

Use heat treatments for chronic injuries, such as overuse injuries, before participating in the activity.

When using heat treatments, be very careful to use moderate heat for a limited time (be careful of burns). Never leave heating pads or towels on for extended periods or while sleeping.

Heating can also be done before stretching to loosen the body before activity. By heating before your stretch, you will relax the muscles and tendons and may be less likely to injure yourself.

3

Wrist Support

wrist support for wrist sprain
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Support braces can help people who have either had a recent wrist sprain injury or those who tend to injure their wrists easily.

Wrist braces function by providing gentle support for wrist movements. They will not prevent severe injuries, but they may help you perform simple activities while rehabilitating from a wrist sprain.

Unless the goal is complete immobilization, wrist splints should be removed periodically to ensure the joint remains flexible. Sometimes people wear splints too frequently, leading to stiffness of the joint and weakness of the muscles surrounding the joint.

4

Ankle Brace

woman's feet with ankle in black brace
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Ankle braces act in a similar manner to wrist supports. While these will not prevent all injuries, they often help those who tend to be prone to ankle sprains.

Some people prefer the lace-up ankle braces, but many prefer the simplicity of a sleeve-type support. The ankle brace should be snug, but not tight. It needs to be loosened if the toes tingle or become cool.

As with wrist braces, most often these ankle braces should be removed to maintain mobility and work the muscles surrounding the ankle joint. Excessive use of the brace can lead to a weakening of the muscles surrounding the ankle. In young athletes, it's especially important to maintain an ankle exercise routine to prevent dependence on the brace.

5

Compression Bandages

How to use a compression bandage

Verywell/Cindy Chung

Use compression when elevating an acute sprain or strain. Using an Ace bandage, wrap the area overlapping the elastic wrap by one-half of the width of the wrap. The wrap should be snug, but not tight—you don't want to cut off circulation to the extremity. So, if your fingers or toes become cold, blue, or tingle, loosed and re-wrap!

Applying compression is most helpful in the very early stages to prevent excessive fluid accumulation, but can also help to minimize fluid accumulation in the soft-tissues. Some athletes prefer compression garments, such as compression stockings, to help accomplish this goal.

In addition, compression dressings around the knee should be fairly loose to reduce the risk of developing blood clots, a sometimes very serious complication.

6

Rest and Elevation

Man with injured leg in bed with girl bringing a breakfast tray
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In addition to ice and compression, rest and elevation is an important part of treating an acute sprain or strain. How long to rest your injury will depend on the severity, but it's important to realize that resuming activity may increase pain and swelling, and can raise the risk of suffering another, perhaps even more severe, injury.

Bottom Line

The RICE method for treating acute sprains and strains includes rest, ice, compression, and elevation. This is most effective for injuries within 48 hours. With minor injuries, the RICE method can reduce pain and swelling, and return you to your activities as soon as possible. With more severe injuries, however, it's important to consult your doctor before self-treating.

Certainly, the best treatment is prevention. Making sure to stretch when applicable, taking time to warm up and cool down, and resting an injury until it is healed enough to resume sports, are all effective ways to reduce the chance you might need to use the RICE method in the first place.

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Article Sources
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  • American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons. Sprains, Strains, and Other Soft Tissue Injuries.