The RICE Method – What Is It and Is It Effective?
RICE is an acronym, and it stands for:
- Rest – Avoid using the injured area
- Ice – Using an ice pack to the injured area to control any swelling and inflammation. Note that you should avoid letting the ice pack touch your skin directly to avoid ice burns
- Compress – applying a tight wrapping to the injured area to limit swelling and provide support
- Elevate – Keeping the injured area above the heart to help keep the swelling down.
What are the benefits of RICE?
RICE is used by many doctors and physiotherapists to treat acute injuries to the soft tissue including muscles, tendons, and ligaments. These injuries may include sprains, strains, and contusions. Most of the time these injuries are sustained while playing sports, although it can also arise from accidents such as slipping while walking downstairs.
The benefits of RICE can be explained by the purpose of each individual steps. Rest is to immobilise the injured area to allow it to rest and heal while preventing further injuries. Ice helps to numb the area and reduce pain. Compression helps to reduce blood flow to the area and therefore limit swelling. Elevating the injured part above the heart makes any swelling already accumulating to flow back towards the heart.
Is RICE effective?
This is where researchers disagree. A study from the red cross say that ice alone is effective, while the rest of the method is not useful. Some other studies find no evidence that RICE is effective whatsoever. Despite this, RICE remains a widely recommended method of treatment of acute injuries. From my experience clinically, there are benefits to using RICE to treat acute injuries, especially when it comes to controlling swelling.
When and how to do it?
The RICE method is most effective when used to treat mild to moderate injuries in the first 24 to 48 hours of the injury.
Here’s how you do it:
- Rest – try not to use the injured area or put weight on it. The use of a brace, splint, or crutches is recommended.
- Ice – 20 mins every 2 hours for the first 48 to 72 hours, or until the swelling goes down.
- Compress – Wrap the bandage tightly enough to support the area without cutting the blood supply off.
- Elevate – Elevate the injured area above your heart for about 2 hours a day.
You should not use RICE when you cannot put weight on your injured area, the injury is a recurring long term injury, or if your joint or bone is clearly out of its original shape. In such cases, seek professional help!