R.I.C.E. Treatment for Acute Musculoskeletal Injury

Self-Care to Reduce Pain and Swelling With Soft Tissue Injuries

R.I.C.E. stands for Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation. It is a method of self-care to use right after you experience a minor injury. R.I.C.E quickly treats pain and swelling after an acute (sudden) soft tissue injury such as a sprain or strain, a minor bone injury, or a sports injury. It can also be used to relieve the pain of closed fractures and degenerative joint problems.

This article will explain how to manage each step of the R.I.C.E. method and when it's important to seek medical help.

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

R.I.C.E. should be started as soon as you notice pain and swelling in the injured area. Here are the basics of R.I.C.E.

RICE for injuries
Verywell / JR Bee

Rest

Rest is essential for the healing of injured tissue. Without rest, movement and weight bearing can continue to aggravate an injury and cause increased inflammation and swelling.

It's best to rest the the injured area for 48 hours, if possible, or at least avoid putting unnecessary stress on it. If you have a leg injury, you may need to stay off it completely and not bear any weight on it. Assistive devices or mobility aids (such as a cane or a sling) may be helpful for reducing pressure on an injured joint or limb.

Ice

Ice is useful for reducing pain and inflammation associated with an acute injury. Icing is believed to be most effective if done during the first few hours after the injury has occurred. You can apply ice for 20 minutes at a time and as frequently as every hour.

Use a cold gel pack or a plastic bag filled with ice, but do not apply a bag of ice directly to the skin. Instead, wrap the bag of ice in a towel or another material to keep the ice from directly touching your skin. Often, gel packs or cold packs sold for this purpose have a cover provided.

Avoid leaving an ice pack on on your injury for more than 20 minutes at a time. This can damage the skin or lead to an ice burn.


After you remove the ice pack, give your skin time enough to get warm before icing it again.

Compression

Compression of an injured or painful ankle, knee, or wrist helps to reduce the swelling. Elastic bandages, such as ACE wraps, are usually effective. Special boots, air casts, and splints can offer both compression and support. Your healthcare provider can suggest the best option for you.

Be sure not to apply a compression bandage too tightly, as this can interfere with your blood circulation. If you feel throbbing, the bandage is probably wrapped too tight; take it off and put it back on more loosely.

Elevation

Elevate the injured part of the body above heart level. This provides a downward path for draining fluid back to the heart, which may reduce swelling and pain. Try to elevate the entire limb six to 10 inches above the heart. You can lie down and use a pillow to help elevate the injured limb.

When to Seek Medical Treatment

Many common acute injuries can be helped by R.I.C.E., especially when combined with over-the-counter pain relievers. However, if your pain and swelling don't begin to go down after 48 hours, you should see your healthcare provider.

Get professional treatment immediately if any injury is severe. A severe injury implies that there is an obvious fracture, dislocation of a joint, prolonged swelling, or prolonged or severe pain. Serious injuries may require more intensive treatment and possibly surgery.

Summary

With an acute injury, it's important to bring pain, swelling, and inflammation under control as soon as possible. The R.I.C.E. method—Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation—is a simple way to do this on your own at home. You may want to include an ice pack and an ACE bandage in your first-aid kit in case you need it at some point.

If you are still experiencing pain and swelling after 48 hours of R.I.C.E., contact your healthcare provider.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What’s better for a sudden sprain, ice or heat?

    Traditionally, ice is recommended for the first 48 hours or so, because it reduces inflammation and swelling (due to increased blood flow to the area), and pain. However, some researchers discourage ice, arguing that the extra blood flow could allow the body to heal itself more quickly. You can try ice or no ice, depending on what seems to work for your recovery, but never use heat on a new acute injury.

  • How do you use compression to treat an injury?

    Compression means wrapping an injured area of the body with an elastic bandage to reduce swelling. You need to wrap it in a way that provides light pressure. Don’t wrap it so tight that you feel numbness, tingling, more pain, or additional swelling. A compression wrap should only be needed for the first 48 to 72 hours after an injury.

  • How long do I need to rest following an injury?

    It depends on the extent of the injury and other factors, but at least two to three days of rest is usually recommended. However, you may not want to keep the injured area totally immobile. Talk to your healthcare provider about whether you should do some light exercises or movements to prevent stiffening and pain.

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6 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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