R.I.C.E: Rest, ice, compression, and elevation—home treatment for pain and minor injuries

Whether it’s an acute or overuse soft tissue injury, R.I.C.E. therapy can set you on the path to a speedy recovery. 

A White girl using the R.I.C.E. therapy to treat a White boy with a minor leg injury

Key takeaways

  • R.I.C.E. therapy is a first-aid treatment that can be done at home. 
  • R.I.C.E. treatment can help ease pain and swelling and speed up recovery. 
  • Serious injuries cannot be treated using the R.I.C.E. method. 

R.I.C.E. is an acronym for rest, ice, compression, and elevation. R.I.C.E. therapy is a simple self-care method used to treat minor injuries that affect the muscles, ligaments, and tendons, also known as soft tissue injuries. 

Treatment should be started as soon as possible after an injury occurs to minimize damage, prevent secondary complications, and fast-track the healing process. 

Keep reading to learn more about the steps involved in R.I.C.E. therapy and when to seek medical attention. 

Steps involved in R.I.C.E. therapy

A R.I.C.E. therapy involves the following steps

1. Rest

Rest is essential for tissue repair. Moving around and putting weight on an injured limb can aggravate the injury and prolong your recovery time. It’s best to avoid using the injured area for 24 to 48 hours. 

If you have a leg or foot injury, use any available mobility aids, such as a cane, a crutch, or a mobility scooter, to get around. 

2. Ice

Applying ice to an injury induces vasoconstriction (narrowing of blood vessels), which helps control swelling. It also decreases pain. 

Ice the injury for 20 minutes and then wait for at least an hour before reapplying the ice. Leaving the ice on for too long can cause numbness, burning, and tissue damage.

If you don’t have an ice pack, a plastic bag filled with ice will work just fine. Do not apply the bag or ice pack directly to the skin to avoid frostbite. Instead, wrap it with a piece of cloth or towel. 

3. Compression

Compression involves wrapping the injured area with an elastic medical bandage like an ACE wrap. This step also helps to reduce swelling. 

The bandage shouldn’t be applied too tightly, as this can interrupt blood flow to the area. If you feel a throbbing or tingling sensation, it’s a sign that you should loosen the bandage a bit. 

4. Elevation

Elevation means raising the injured limb slightly above heart level —six to ten inches. This aids fluid drainage from the limb to the heart, which may reduce pain and swelling. 

It’s recommended to elevate the injured limb as much as possible. You can do this by lying on your back and placing your leg or arm on a pillow.  

Injuries that R.I.C.E can treat

Examples of common injuries that can be treated with R.I.C.E therapy include: 

  • Sprains: A sprain is a stretch or tear of a ligament, a band of connective tissue that connects bones and provides stability to a joint. 
  • Strains: A strain is a muscle or tendon (a tissue connecting muscle to bone) stretch or tear. 
  • Bruises: Bruises occur when capillaries (the smallest blood vessels) are damaged as a result of trauma to the skin. 

A doctor may also recommend R.I.C.E. for the treatment of other soft tissue injuries such as tendinitis and bursitis, which are inflammations of the tendons and bursae—fluid-filled sacs found around your joints—respectively.

When is R.I.C.E. not an effective treatment?

R.I.C.E. therapy is not recommended to treat injuries such as a broken bone or a severe ligament tear. Such injuries require the attention of a doctor for evaluation and treatment. 

Possible risks and side effects of R.I.C.E. treatment

Some of the potential risks and side effects of using the RICE treatment method include: 

1. Allergic reaction

Some individuals may be allergic to cold temperatures and the materials used in compression wraps. If you notice any rash, redness, swelling, or itching in the area where you applied an ice pack or compression bandage, discontinue use and contact your doctor. 

2. Interference with the healing process

Inflammation is a part of the body’s natural healing process and involves transporting proteins and white blood cells to an injured site through the blood vessels. 

When you apply ice to the skin, it constricts the blood vessels and can impede the transport of inflammatory chemicals to the injured site, which is detrimental to the healing process.

3. Delayed Diagnosis

Because RICE therapy can help alleviate pain and improve comfort, it can also mask the severity of an injury, leading to delayed diagnosis. Late diagnosis and treatment of a severe soft tissue injury can cause avoidable tissue damage, impaired muscle function, and other serious consequences. 

When to see a doctor

You should see a doctor immediately if you sustain a serious injury or if your injury shows no improvement after a few days of using R.I.C.E. An injury is classified as serious if it’s accompanied by extreme pain, numbness, or the affected area is deformed.