RICE for acute musculoskeletal injuries

RICE stands for Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation. This is a self-care method to use right after your minor injury. RICE quickly treats pain and swelling after acute (sudden) soft tissue injuries, such as sprains or strains, minor bone injuries, or sports injuries. It is also used to relieve pain from closed fractures and degenerative joint problems.

This article will explain how to manage each step of the RICE method and when it is important to seek medical help.

RICE should be started as soon as you notice pain and swelling in the injured area.Here are the basics of RICE


Rest is essential for the healing of injured tissue. Without rest, exercise and weight bearing can continue to aggravate the injury and lead to increased inflammation and swelling.

If possible, it is best to rest the injured area for 48 hours, or at least avoid putting unnecessary pressure on it. If your leg is injured, you may need to stay away from it completely and not bear any weight. Assistive devices or walking aids, such as a cane or sling, may help reduce pressure on the injured joint or limb.


Ice can be used to reduce pain and inflammation associated with acute injuries. Ice is thought to be most effective if applied within the first few hours after the injury. You can use the ice cubes for 20 minutes at a time or every hour.

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Use a cold gel pack or a plastic bag filled with ice cubes, but do not apply a bag of ice cubes directly to the skin. Instead, wrap the ice pack in a towel or other material to prevent the ice from directly touching your skin. Usually, gel packs or cold packs sold for this purpose come with a lid.

Avoid putting ice packs on the wound for more than 20 minutes at a time. This can damage the skin or cause ice burns.

After removing the ice pack, allow enough time for your skin to warm up before freezing again.


Compression on an injured or painful ankle, knee, or wrist can help reduce swelling. Elastic bandages, such as ACE bandages, are usually effective. Special boots, air castings and splints provide compression and support. Your healthcare provider can advise you on the best options.

Make sure not to stretch the compression bandage too tightly, as this can interfere with your blood circulation. If you feel throbbing, the bandage may be too tight; take it off and put it back on a little looser.

Precautions for elastic bandages


Elevate the injured part of the body above the level of the heart. This provides a downward path for fluid to drain back to the heart, which can reduce swelling and pain. Try to raise your entire limb 6 to 10 inches above your heart. You can lie down and use a pillow to help elevate the injured limb.

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When to seek medical treatment

RICE can help many common acute injuries, especially when combined with over-the-counter pain relievers. However, if your pain and swelling do not start to decrease after 48 hours, you should see your healthcare provider.

If the injury is serious, get professional medical attention immediately. Serious injury means a significant fracture, a dislocated joint, prolonged swelling, or prolonged or severe pain. Serious injuries may require more intensive treatment and possibly surgery.


For acute injuries, it is important to control pain, swelling, and inflammation as quickly as possible. The RICE method—rest, ice, compression, elevation—is an easy way to do it yourself at home. You may need to add an ice pack and an ACE bandage to your first aid kit in case you need it.

Contact your healthcare provider if you still experience pain and swelling 48 hours after taking RICE.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Which is better for a sudden sprain, ice or heat?

    Ice is traditionally recommended for the first 48 hours or so as it reduces inflammation and swelling (due to increased blood flow to the area) and pain. However, some researchers discourage icing, arguing that the extra blood flow allows the body to heal itself faster. You can try ice or no ice, depending on what seems to be working for your recovery, but never use heat for a new acute injury.

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  • How do you use stress to heal an injury?

    Compression refers to wrapping the injured area of ​​the body with an elastic bandage to reduce swelling. You need to wrap it in a way that provides light pressure. Don’t wrap it so tightly that you may experience numbness, tingling, more pain, or additional swelling. Compression wraps should only be used within the first 48 to 72 hours after injury.

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  • How long do I need to rest after an injury?

    It depends on the severity of the injury and other factors, but at least two to three days of rest is generally recommended. However, you may not want to leave the injured area completely still. Discuss with your healthcare provider whether you should do some light exercise or exercise to prevent stiffness and pain.

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