The standard procedures for the initial care of athletic injuries are universally accepted and can be remembered by the acronym RICE (Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation). These procedures are designed to control inflammation, pain, muscle spasm, and minimize the magnitude of the hematoma, which allows the process of healing to begin earlier and proceed at a more rapid rate.
The period of rest required after an injury will vary based on the severity of the injury and the athletic trainer’s philosophy. Rest following an athletic injury is necessary to allow the body time to get the effects of trauma under control and to avoid additional damage or stress to the injured tissue.
Cold applications to an acute athletic injury reduce tissue damage, result in the formation of a smaller hematoma, decrease the amount of inflammation, and reduce the amount of muscle spasm and pain that may accompany the injury.
Ice should be used intermittently for the first 72 hours following an athletic injury. There are three treatment methods:
ICE PACK. Put crushed or cubed ice in a plastic bag and place over the body part to be treated. (A frozen bag of peas work as well). Use for 15-20 minutes. Be sure to cover area with a thin towel to form a barrier between the skin and ice to avoid damage to the skin.
ICE BATH. Immerse the body part (ideal for hands or feet) in a bucket of water and then add ice. If fingers and toes are not involved it may be more comfortable to cover them or leave them out. Immersion should be for 5-10 minutes (20 minutes max).
ICE MASSAGE. Freeze water in a Styrofoam or paper cup. Tear the edges of the cup away exposing the ice yet leaving the cup to hold on to. Using a gentle, circular motion, rub the ice over the injured area for 5-10 minutes.
*Maximum ice treatment time is 20-30 minutes. Tissue damage may occur and the effects of ice may be reversed if it is applied for more than 20-30 minutes.
The purpose of applying compression to an acute injury is to help control or reduce the amount of hemorrhage and hematoma formation. Compression is usually applied in the form of an elastic bandage but may also include the use of foam or rubber padding. Be sure to avoid wrapping the body part to tight since this can affect the blood flow to the area, and can cause further injury.
Elevating an injured body part above the level of the heart as much as possible for the first 24 hours following the injury further reduces the amount of swelling associated with the injury by limiting fluid pooling and encouraging venous return to the heart.
* Always seek medical attention if the symptoms associated to the injury worsen