It doesn’t matter if you run full marathons or just like to shoot hoops on the weekend, soft tissue injuries—such as minor muscle strains, sprains, and bruises—are part of the game. The key to getting back in the game (or race) is treating them promptly and properly.
For many years, R.I.C.E. (rest, ice, compression, and elevation) was the gold standard in post-injury care. But new research suggests that adding a P, for protection, to the beginning of that acronym and regimen can be of great benefit. Here’s why:
After an injury, the first thing you want to do is protect the area from further injury. Protection in the form of a brace, sling, splint, crutches or even an ace bandage, does that by limiting movement of the injured joint or area. For example, a good ankle brace can reduce the risk of accidentally re-rolling an ankle, which could aggravate or further injure damaged ligaments.
In addition, protection can also work to minimize pain by limiting the amount of weight placed on the injured area.
Once you’ve taken steps to protect your injury, you can move on to the remaining components of P.R.I.C.E.
After an injury, it’s important to allow your body time to heal itself. Avoid exercise and limit any activity that involves the injured area until any swelling or pain subsides.
Ice is the best thing you can do to reduce inflammation and swelling. Ice should be applied within the first 48 hours of the injury for periods lasting no more than 20 minutes. It can be reapplied after another 20 minutes. Continue the ice-on/ice-off practice for a few days or until the swelling has largely gone away.
Like ice, compression helps limit swelling while also providing support to the injured area during the day. Ace bandages and athletic tape are both excellent options for compression but take care not to wrap so tight as to limit blood supply.
Whenever possible, keep the injured body part raised above the level of your heart. This will reduce the amount of blood flow to the area and reduce swelling.
For minor injuries, following all five steps of the P.R.I.C.E. therapy for two to three days should bring relief and speed recovery. If after three days of following P.R.I.C.E. your pain or swelling hasn’t improved, contact your doctor to discuss next steps.
Ivette Guttmann, MD, is a sports medicine physician at SVMC Orthopedics and also sees patients at Northern Berkshire Orthopedics in Williamstown, MA, and Twin Rivers Medical, P.C., in Hoosick Falls, NY.