A few years ago, I sprained my ankle, with an acute onset of pain. I elevated my foot and ankle as soon as I got home, applying ice and compression. For the next two weeks, I continued to rest, ice, compress and elevate my ankle. I took a break from my regular exercise activities, elevated my foot as much as possible, and did gentle exercises to help circulation and range of motion in my sprained ankle. By the end of the second week, I was feeling pretty good — not too much swelling, close to normal gait, and minimal pain.
Self-management of an injury can make a big a difference. Manage your injury with RICE: Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation. Following the principles of RICE allows you to control the swelling and manage the injury without continuing to create additional pain and swelling. Pain leads to muscle tension, reduced circulation and inflammation and reduced movement, leading to more pain. This is known as the pain cycle. Focusing on rest, compression, ice, and elevation to help reduce inflammation will also help to reduce pain and improve outcomes.
Rest: Many people do not allow themselves to take a break and rest the injured body part, and instead force themselves to carry on with life as usual. However, to manage pain and injury, your body needs to take a break and rest. If you do not rest enough, you will increase swelling, and the swelling drives more pain.
Ice: We recommend that you ice immediately post injury, as often as you can, for as long as it feels good to ice. When the injury is hot and irritated, the ice will help reduce inflammation. Don’t leave the ice on too long or it will start to feel like a burn or ache.
Compression: The compression helps to keep the swelling under control, which will help minimize pain. A wrap will also help remind you that you have an injured part, and to be more careful.
Elevation: Elevation helps to control swelling, and can be done while resting. Position the injured limb higher than your heart, so swelling can drain toward your heart.
Does it really matter what you do immediately after you sustain an injury?
To manage an acute injury, many people will go to the emergency room, then schedule an appointment with the appropriate physician to manage their care thereafter. Generally, you need to wait a few weeks before you can see the doctor. Research shows that quicker access to physical therapy results in will fewer physical therapy sessions. Meaning, you get better faster.
It is crucial to RICE for the first few days post injury. When you manage your swelling, you will also manage your pain. Consider utilizing other health professionals such as a physical therapist before your appointment with the doctor. Physical therapists can often see you within the first day or two of injury. PTs can teach you how best to RICE, how to avoid and prevent additional pain and swelling, and which exercises and stretches will best serve your particular injury. This will help you get your strength and function back. If you “push past the pain,” the swelling will increase and the healing process will be delayed.
Stamford PT can help you learn how to manage your body immediately post injury, or at any time along the way.