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

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

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The R.I.C.E. treatment is recommended by health professionals for the early treatment of bone injury or acute soft tissue injuries such as a sprain or strain. It can be helpful for sports injuries, closed fractures, and degenerative joint problems.


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

The acronym R.I.C.E. stands for:

  • Rest
  • Ice
  • Compression
  • Elevation

The primary goal of R.I.C.E. is to bring pain and swelling under control as quickly as possible.

It should be started as soon as pain and swelling occur and used until there is healing of minor injuries or until another treatment has been initiated for more complex problems. Here are the basics of R.I.C.E.

RICE for injuries
Verywell / JR Bee


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

You should initially reduce using or stop using the injured area for 48 hours. If you have a leg injury, you may need to stay off of it completely and not bear any weight on it. You may need to use assistive devices or mobility aids to keep off of the injured joint or limb.


Ice is useful for reducing pain and inflammation associated with an acute injury. Icing is believed to be most effective if done the first couple of days after the injury has occurred. You can apply ice for 20 minutes at a time and as frequently as every hour. If you prefer, apply it four to eight times a day.

You can 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 make sure there is some layer of material between the ice and your skin. Often, gel packs or cold packs sold for this purpose have a cover provided.

Don't leave the ice on your injury for more than 20 minutes at a time or you could damage your skin.

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


Compression of an injured or painful ankle, knee, or wrist helps to reduce the swelling. Elastic bandages, such as ACE wraps, are most commonly used. Special boots, air casts, and splints can serve a dual purpose of compression and support. Your healthcare provider should make a recommendation and discuss your options.

Be sure not to apply excessive compression which would act as a tourniquet and interfere with your blood circulation. If you feel throbbing, the bandage is probably wrapped too tight; take it off and put it back on a little looser.


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 6 to 10 inches above the heart so there is a complete downhill path. Lay down and use a pillow to help elevate the injured limb.

When to Seek Medical Treatment

Too often, people with an acute injury do nothing with the hope that it will go away without any intervention. Many common acute injuries can be helped by R.I.C.E., especially when combined with over-the-counter pain relievers.

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.

A Word From Verywell

Sprains and strains can happen to anyone, whether on the playing field or simply when making a wrong move at home. Bringing pain, swelling, and inflammation under control as soon as possible is the optimal plan.

It's smart to stock an ice bag and an ACE bandage as part of your emergency first aid supplies. You might even keep a cold gel pack in the freezer to have ready.

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, but 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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7 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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