You twist your ankle jogging or injure your elbow on the tennis courts. It's a little painful, but not enough for a doctor's visit. So what do you do? Grab an ice pack and remember the RICE treatment: Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation.
Using the RICE method
Ice is normally used to bring down swelling. It can also relieve pain. It works best on new injuries to reduce any swelling. Ice reduces swelling by constricting blood vessels. It can be a very effective anti-inflammatory. But there are some basic rules you need to follow:
- Ice the injury as soon as possible. Ice usually works best during the first 24 to 48 hours of an injury. The longer you go without it, the less effective it is.
- Don't put ice directly on your injury. Put it in a plastic bag and wrap it in a thin towel, so it doesn't freeze your skin.
- Never ice more than 20 minutes at a time. Doing so can lead to frostbite. Remove the ice if the area starts to feel numb. Do not use ice if you have diabetes or problems with your nerves or blood vessels.
- Use ice four to eight times a day to reduce swelling and pain. Allow ample time for the skin to warm between sessions. Some experts recommend waiting 60 to 90 minutes.
- In the meantime, keep the swollen area elevated above the level of your heart.
- Compress the area with an elastic bandage or wrap. Your doctor can advise you on how tightly to wrap.
Using heat after an injury is typically not recommended, but sometimes a doctor may suggest it.
Improperly treating an injury with heat can make it worse. Heat stimulates blood circulation. So it may increase bleeding or swelling in some instances. Do not use it within 48 hours of an injury.
Consider using heat later to ease tight muscles and promote healing.
Like ice, you have to be careful with heat. Do not use it if you have diabetes or nerve damage.
Know when to get help
Carefully assess your injury. Some injuries are too severe to be treated at home. If you're unsure, contact your health provider.
Seek immediate medical help if you have an injury with:
- Severe pain
- Numbness in the injured area
- Inability to move or bear weight
- A popping sound or snapping sensation
- Any deformity of the joint (misshapen)
- Signs of infection, such as a swollen joint that is warm to the touch, as well as fever.
Also, call your doctor if pain from your injury doesn't get better, if the injury starts to feel worse or if the injury doesn't improve after 24 hours of self-treatment.
But even if you feel completely recovered, return to your exercise routine at a slow pace. Use pain as a guide. If it hurts, lay off for a while. If you hurt yourself again, you might not be so lucky the second time around.
Emily A. King contributed to this report.
Created on 03/06/2010
Updated on 07/01/2013
- National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases. Questions and answers about sprains and strains.
- National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases. Handout on health: Sports injuries.
- American College of Sports Medicine. Sprains, strains and tears.