RICE: Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation


mom applying bandage and basic first aid to daughter with scraped and injured knee

Getting hurt is the worst. That’s why there’s got to be a better way to recover than just waiting, right? Only, what’s the right way to use RICE (or rest, ice, compression, and elevation) so that you recover faster and better?

Using RICE (rest, ice, compression, and elevation) immediately after a hard workout or an injury can help decrease recovery time while improving your outcome. You do that by resting and replenishing, using ice for 20 minutes on and off, using compression clothing effectively, and elevating affected areas to stay stronger and maintain your health.

What is RICE: Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation

RICE is an acronym for Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation. It’s a faster, less painful way to recovery after a hard workout or an injury. In other words, not only is it a great way to recover after a sprained ankle, but it’s also something you can strategically use to workout smarter.

This article is for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.

Rest

Rest is important – whether you’re recovering from a workout or an injury.

  • Working out will help your muscles become stronger, but only if you allow them to rest between workouts. Rest is when your body takes what it’s learned (during a workout) and ingrains it – or really makes those lessons a part of you.
  • After an injury, the only way to get better is to give that affected area time to heal. If you keep abusing it, that joint or muscle will only get progressively worse – or fail entirely.

So make sure you’re giving yourself that time to rest. How much time do you need to rest?

Well, it’s going to depend. If you’re working out, as little as one day off could be all you need. For example, I find that alternating arm and leg days gives my body enough time to rest between hard workouts.

On the other hand, I’ve had injuries that have required months to recover – like a torn abdominal muscle (or diastasis recti) during pregnancy. Now, though, I’m able to work on daily physical therapy to improve my mommy’s tummy.

Ice

When you’ve got an injury, ice feels so nice!

Ice, used properly, can help you recover faster from both injuries and workouts.

Ice works because a temperature change affects blood flow (through vasoconstriction and vasodilation). So for up to 48 hours after an injury, using ice off and on can help promote better healing. After that, it just feels nice!

And for a workout? Sometimes just a dunk in an ice bath is what you needed. My friends who run marathons swear that a dunk in an ice bath after the event helps them recover faster. And, as a nurse, it makes sense to me!

Personally, I like to keep my ice to smaller areas – because I don’t like being cold. But after a rough workout doing squats? You better believe I’ve got an ice pack on my knees!

Compression

Your body is amazing at getting blood to where it needs to go. Arteries deliver oxygen-rich blood to your body by capillaries and then to your extremities. Now, in order for your body to reach every corner and cell, it does have to leave your circulatory system to some degree.

But then how do they get back to your heart? That’s where your venous and lymph systems come into play.

  • Most of that blood that’s gone out to your fingers and toes get collected up by your venous system – or your veins.
  • Your lymph system collects other those lost cells (both white and red blood cells) and leads it back to where it should go.

However, both of these systems require you to be moving in order to work properly. That’s right – they piggyback off of your muscles to work.

And in order to help them work more efficiently (because your muscles are working against gravity here!), using compression garments can help make things easier.

So those compression socks will help prevent swelling in your toes – but they’ll also help you heal faster and recover better after injuries or workouts. Compression sleeves will do the same for your arms.

Elevation

Remember how your veins and lymph system works off of your muscles? Well, you can also let gravity help out. Raising an affected limb or area above the level of your heart will have gravity helping to drain out excess fluid – fluid that causes swelling and pain!

So if you’ve injured a knee, lay down and prop your feet up on some pillows. Or after a workout, lay down next to a wall and raise your legs up for a few minutes.

You don’t want to have things go numb or tingly, but just a few minutes of elevation each day can speed up the healing process.

Commonly-asked Questions

Does the order matter?

No, it doesn’t. In fact, many times you should be doing all four of these things simultaneously. When we got a trauma (or injured) patient into the emergency department, we often had several staff members applying each of these things at the same time.

However, since you probably don’t have an entire trauma team on staff, the RICE acronym is a great way to remember things so that they all get done.

When should you RICE?

You can use RICE after an injury or after a workout. Ice works best within 48 hours of an injury – or just after a workout. After that, it loses its therapeutic value and is mostly just a nice thing to have if you like it.

Is RICE just for athletes?

RICE isn’t just for athletes, no. It’s also for injuries in general.

For example, kids who came into our emergency department with broken bones had RICE explained to both them and their parents. Why? It’s going to help with the swelling – and decrease recovery time. And it helps with pain control, too.

How can you adjust RICE for kids?

Speaking of kids, let’s adjust RICE for them. Because not all kids are rational – or able to understand why you’re throwing an ice pack on their arm.

How to get kids to hold still so they can rest

Getting kids to hold still long enough for it to be considered rest is hard. After all, kids like to go and do!

But explaining to them first how important it is to rest is vital. Then, have some sitting-still activities can be key. For example, at home, I try to limit screen time. But when kids are sick or injured? Then we lighten up and have more movies or shows. Because that way, we can encourage our kids to get more rest.

How to get ice on kids who hate cold things

Most kids hate cold things touching them. After all, it’s not the best sensation even when you’re expecting it. It’s COLD!!

So it’s okay to get creative. Distraction is, hands down, one of the best ways to do it. We would put on a show or a game or play toys – and then apply the treatment.

Just make sure you explain what you’re doing – they’ll be distracted by the activity but they still want to know what’s going on.

Another way to do things is to package them differently. Got a kid with a hand injury? Hand them a Popsicle. It’s cold, they’ll hold it, and complaints will be minimal because they get to eat it.

A Popsicle is also a great way to treat a sore throat.

I also found that kids did better if you added a washcloth or small towel between their body and the ice. That way, it’s not as cold – but still giving them the therapeutic benefit of icing.

Using compression on kids

Most kids don’t like tight clothing – at least, mine don’t. So generally, compression clothing is out. However, if they’ve pulled a muscle, an ace wrap is a great way to put compression on without too much of a fight.

Just remember to start the wrap at the farthest away point and wrap towards the heart. That way, it’s compressing the right way.

How to get kids to elevate injuries without an argument

As usual, be sure to explain the plan. Because sometimes, kids will surprise you by complying!

Then, however, distraction is key to ensuring that the treatment continues as directed by your doctor or sports therapist. A movie or a video game could be a great way to help your kid stay compliant with treatments!

RICE is for everyone – and it works wonders!

Using rest, ice, compression, and elevation is amazing. It truly helps the recovery process for injuries and workouts. So go out and live your best life – and know how to recover so that you can get back out there faster.

Related Topics:

  • Want to help recover faster? Then you need to have the right foundation: fuel your body for success by eating the best foods. And if you’re a wannabe whiz in the kitchen, here are all of my favorite recipes to cook. Just be sure to use the treats in moderation.
  • If you can’t use the treats in moderation, you may want to look into protein shakes as a meal replacement. Here’s what you need to know before you do that, though.
  • Is your injury at your core? RICE will help some things, but if it’s a diastasis recti you’re going to need to add physical therapy to your recovery plan. Here’s all about diastasis recti – so you know exactly what to do.

Kimberly C. Starr

I'm a ginger who loves reading, eating, being a nurse, spending time with my family, and writing about it all. I believe humor is the best medicine, followed very closely by chocolate and tacos. To read more about me, click here.

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