Heat or Ice? Following the RICE Method after an Injury

If you’ve ever had an injury – sprain, strain or pulled muscle, chances are you’ve been told to ice it. You may have even told to follow the popular RICE method, which stands for Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation.

RICE is a good rule of thumb, but let’s dig into it a bit more here so you have a guide to follow if an injury should arise in the future.

When it comes to rest, think of this as “relative rest”. In other words, you can participate in 25% to 50% of your normal activity as tolerated and then gradually return to normal activity if you don’t experience any regression in pain or joint mobility.

Icing is best initiated with new pain or injury or during “flare-ups”. Ice only till the skin goes numb. Remember that you should not apply either ice or heat directly to the skin. Use a towel to protect your skin. Repeat if necessary once skin temperature has returned to normal and if pain persists. 

Once the inflammation has reduced and movement has minimally improved, switching to heat is recommended to help improve circulation and tissue healing. Apply heat no longer than 20 minutes and never fall asleep on a heating pad.

In compressing the injury site, we would advise against using ACE wraps in a tourniquet pattern, but rather wrapping the site in a figure-8 pattern. It’s also important to remember to remove the wrap while sleeping.

Elevation should involve lying down with the appendage raised above the heart. However, keep in mind that excessive bed rest and lack of movement is typically counter-productive. Therefore, think back to “relative rest” in order to support the healing process.

Following these simple yet essential steps will make a big difference in your injury recovery.

If you would like more information about the RICE method, or to schedule an INVIVO Physical Therapy appointment, please contact us at 414-265-5606 today.