RICE is an acronym for a type of treatment. Doctors usually recommend this treatment when a person has injured a muscle, tendon, or ligament. These are called soft tissue injuries.
RICE stands for:
- Rest: Avoiding use of the injured area.
- Ice: Applying ice packs or bags of frozen vegetables to the area, without them touching the skin directly.
- Compression: Wrapping the injured area with an elastic bandage to provide support, reduce blood flow, and limit swelling.
- Elevation: Keeping the area raised above the level of the heart to reduce swelling.
Soft tissue injuries include sprains, strains, and contusions, which are commonly known as bruises.
These injuries are often sports-related. One study reported that sports are responsible for about 50 percent of all musculoskeletal injuries sustained in the United States.
In this article, we describe the correct way to perform RICE and explore why it may be useful.
The benefits of the RICE method can be explained by stage:
- Rest: Immobilization prevents further injury and gives the body time to recover.
- Ice: Cold reduces pain by numbing the affected area.
- Compression: Pressure keeps swelling under control.
- Elevation: Keeping the injured body part above the heart reduces swelling and the associated pain and discomfort.
A review of studies conducted in 2012 found that there was not enough data to prove that the RICE method effectively treated sprained ankles.
A 2015 review associated with the Red Cross confirmed that ice was effective immediately after an injury. However, the researchers determined that immobilizing an injured limb may not be helpful. They found no evidence to support elevation. They also found indications that compression may not aid strains or sprains.
However, the RICE treatment method remains widely and frequently recommended for a wide variety of injuries.
It is not always necessary to see a doctor before trying the RICE method.
Following the steps below may help to treat a mild or moderate injury. Begin immediately after an injury, and continue treatment for the next 24–48 hours.
- Rest the injured area. Avoid moving it and try to keep weight off it. Use splints, braces, canes, or crutches when available.
- Ice the injury for 20 minutes four to eight times a day. This is especially necessary within the first 3 days. Never allow ice to touch the skin directly.
- Compression is effective for up to 1 week. Wrap the bandage tightly enough to support the area, without cutting off blood flow.
- Elevation reduces swelling and bruising by making it more difficult for blood to reach the injury. Experts say it is best to elevate the area for 2–3 hours a day.
Seek medical care if:
- the injured person cannot put any weight on the area
- the area is numb or misshapen
- the injury is recurring
Always exercise caution when returning to everyday activities.
It is most useful for mild to moderate injuries. Doctors usually recommend the RICE method for:
- other soft tissue injuries
People often sustain sprains by tripping, falling, or through sudden twisting motions.
Repeated movements and lifting heavy objects the wrong way can cause strains.
The method is not recommended to treat broken bones or more serious injuries to soft tissue. These may require medication, surgery, or extensive physical therapy.
The RICE method remains the most commonly recommended treatment for soft tissue injuries.
However, not all healthcare providers are completely on board.
Most support the idea of resting, or immobilizing, an injured body part immediately after an injury. Yet, some studies have shown that deliberate, guided movements can be helpful as recovery progresses.
This might involve:
Some physical therapists take a dim view of applying ice and other efforts to prevent inflammation. A study from 2014 suggests that applying ice might actually interfere with the body’s ability to heal.
Injuries are common. Between 2011 and 2014, people in the U.S. reported an average of 8.6 million episodes of injury related to sports and recreation. Luckily, not all were serious. Approximately half required a visit to a doctor or clinician, but not emergency treatment.
The RICE method is best able to treat mild or moderate injuries, such as sprains, strains, and bruises.
If a person has tried the RICE method but experiences no improvement, or if they are unable to put any weight on the injured area, they should seek medical attention. This is also a good idea when an injured area is numb or misshapen.