How to Treat Strains and Sprains with RICE

By March 20, 2020 April 30th, 2020 Exercise

Sports Injuries

Weightlifting, running, yoga and various other forms of exercise are very beneficial, but when overdone or done improperly they can lead to injuries.

Two of the commonest injuries resulting from physical exercise are:

  • Strains: Strains are injuries to muscles. They occur when a muscle is overstretched or overextended, causing some muscle fibres to tear. The injured muscle is typically referred to as “pulled muscle.” Some activities that could give rise to strains are: lifting a heavy object improperly, sprinting without a proper warm-up, or over-stretching before a workout. Strains occur most frequently in the calf, thigh, groin, or shoulder.
  • Sprains: Sprains are injuries to ligaments (the bands that connect bones at the joint). These injuries are more serious and more painful than strains, and they have a tendency to recur. They typically occur when a muscle, tendon, or ligament is subjected to a sudden force, such as due to a fall or accidental twisting (of an ankle, for example). Knees, ankles, shoulders, and finger joints are most commonly susceptible to strains.

Most mild to moderate strains and sprains can be treated effectively at home by RICE—short for Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation. The treatment is used during the first 24 to 48 hours after an injury.

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Here’s what each term means and how it’s applied:


Stop any activity that causes pain in the injured area. Rest is necessary to prevent further injury to the affected body part and also to conserve energy so that it is used preferentially to heal the injured muscle, tendon, or ligament effectively.


Apply ice using a bag of crushed ice or an ice pack wrapped in a thin towel to the affected area. Ice for 5 to 10 minutes at a time every 2 to 3 hours. Applying ice for longer intervals could cause frostbites. Icing provides pain relief and it limits swelling by reducing blood flow to the injured area.


Compress the area of the injury by wrapping an ACE bandage over it, or use a stocking. Compression should be firm but not too tight (throbbing is a sign that it is too tight). The purpose of compression is to limit swelling, which tends to slow down healing.


Raise the injured part slightly above the level of the heart. For example, if one of your ankles is injured, lie down and rest your leg on one or two pillows. Elevating the affected area allows fluid that accumulates around an injury to drain, thus reducing swelling.

After a day or two of RICE and once the swelling has subsided, apply moist heat to the affected area by taking warm showers or regular warm baths. Moist heat promotes healing by increasing blood supply to the injured part.

Resume exercise very gradually. Depending upon the severity of your injury, reaching full intensity could take several days or weeks.

You should consult your doctor if your injury is very severe, for example, if the swelling is excessive, or if there is a loss of sensation away from the injured part, or if the pain persists or increases after self-treatment.

Ritu Kothari

Author Ritu Kothari

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