Understanding The RICE Theory For Sprains And Strains

Posted on: 9 December 2015

If you've suffered your first ever muscle sprain or strain, the local walk in clinic will most likely recommend that you follow the "RICE" plan. The acronym "RICE" is used to reference the steps in the treatment process, which are rest, ice, compression and elevation. If this process is new to you, you may not understand what the process means. Here's a look at the basics to help you understand what you should do.


The first few days after the injury, rest is important. You'll want to avoid using the injured body part as much as possible, keeping it rested to allow the muscle to recover. The more you try to use it, the more damage you risk doing to the injured muscle tissue. Take a couple of days off, take it easy and let the muscle tissue start to heal before you get back into your normal routine.

After those first few days of rest, start working back into your daily schedule gradually. Don't just jump into everything all at once – do it a little bit at a time. That ensures that you don't push yourself and cause the injury to worsen. You might need to have a splint or a pair of crutches for a while to help you ease the demand on the injury as you get back to the daily grind.


In those initial days following your injury, ice is as important as rest. The muscle tissue where you suffered the injury will likely be inflamed and painful. Applying ice in brief periods during those few days will help to calm the inflammation and improve your comfort.

Start by putting a couple of handfuls of ice cubes into a thin, soft towel. Then, fold the towel up and place the ice on the injured area. As an alternative, you can also put shaved ice or ice chips into a plastic storage bag. This might be easier to fit over an affected area. Just make sure that you have a thin layer of fabric between the ice and your skin.

The initial cold sensation should last for several minutes, and it will give way to a burning sensation and an ache. After the ache subsides, you'll feel numbness in the affected area because the cold will have penetrated those nerves. When you notice the numbness set in, it's time to remove the ice. The length of time that it takes will vary based on the thickness of the joint and tissue in the area. Your doctor will tell you how long to expect for each ice treatment. Wait at least an hour before you apply ice to the area again.


Wrap the injured area with a bandage to apply compression. This will help to keep the blood flow regulated within the damaged area. This is important, because it helps to keep inflammation at a minimum and adds support to the muscle so you don't damage it further. Have the doctor at the walk in clinic show you how to wrap it, though, because wrapping it too tight can cut off circulation while loose wrapping won't provide any support or benefit.


Elevating an injured limb will also help to keep the inflammation down, because it slows the rush of blood to the tissue. Use a couple of pillows, a sling or whatever is most comfortable to keep the injury elevated for the initial recovery period. Particularly during those first few days when you need to rest and ice the injury, keeping it elevated will help you combat the swelling, redness and pain.

This is a standard treatment plan for many strains or sprains, but it is important that you have the injury evaluated by a medical professional. Injuries like this are great candidates for a visit to the local walk in clinic, as a quick evaluation is often all that you need to confirm the type of injury and the best treatment plan. So if you have recently suffered an injury, first visit a local walk in clinic, such as West Ocean City Injury & Illness Center.