Rest; Ice; Compression; Elevation.
We’ve all heard the acronym before and been told time and time again that “R.I.C.E.” is the sure-fire way to stay as healthy as possible….
But why? Why does resting, icing, applying compression and elevating an injury help it heal faster?
In lieu of a recent knee issue, self-diagnosed “runner’s knee”, I’ve started researching both over-use injuries and treatments, and R.I.C.E. seems to be a common treatment plan. Here’s why it works….
Rest is the easiest of the 4 to understand. Resting your muscles or injuries give them a time to rejuvenate and heal. Running (or any activity) on an injured area can cause serious damage. I think about my runner friends who have faced injury, and most of them (sorry, you guys!) have continued to use a sore or injured muscle, tendon or ligament before realizing the severity of their injury.
As a new runner, I struggle with knowing what is “regular stiff & sore” pain, and what is “holy crap, I’m really injured” pain. I also struggle with the idea of carrying extra weight on my body, and the sheer force of running may cause extra stiffness, soreness, and injury. I want to be diligent with following my training plan – but only if it keeps me injury-free – which may mean an extra unplanned “rest” day.
(For an interesting read, click over to Runner’s World – there is a new movement towards “M.I.C.E.” – Movement, Ice, Compression Elevation, where “movement” is “active mobilization”. Very interesting!)
Yesterday on The Twitters, someone suggested I should be icing my knee. BUT WHY? Why is icing such an important aspect of injury-recovery? Well…. Here are the benefits of icing:
1. It reduces swelling.
2. It helps slow the blood flow to the affected area, eliminating the sensation of pain (i.e. your area goes numb)
3. When you remove ice, the blood flow begins again bringing fresh nutrients and blood to the affected area, aiding recovery.
Cool, right? I’ve seen recommendations from 10-20 minutes, treatments including bags of ice, to ice-wraps, to frozen vegetables. Another common treatment is ice baths, which provide the same benefits listed above, plus relief for both legs, hip to toe, after a long and painful run or race.
Okay – I recently purchased those Compression Sleeves. But why do they work? Why are compression garments or the act of wrapping your injury so beneficial? According to this site, compression garments (and wraps) have the following benefits:
- greater range of motion
- decreased perceived soreness
- reduced swelling
- greater force production
- reduced post-exercise trauma (to the muscles)
In my own words? THEY FEEL AMAZING. Whether or not the science can 100% prove the effectiveness of compression garments worn during activity, my feeling is…. if they make you feel better and help you stay injury-free either during, or after activity, then why not?
Elevation aims to reduce swelling by increasing venous return of blood to the systemic circulation. This will not only result in less edema [pooling, swelling and retention of water and fluid] but also aid in waste product removal from the area. (Source) So – getting the blood flowing and helping the area have a fresh supply of nutrient-rich blood. Totally makes sense.
But What About Heating?
I love my heating pad. I turn it on almost every night to use on my knees, hips or back. (so much so, that I’ve already told Jay I want a big electric blanket so I can feel like I have one big heating pad all over my body.)
But is heating your muscles an effective aid to injury-recovery?
Heating promotes muscle relaxation; It is very effective for chronic pain or those “nagging” injuries (without swelling or inflammation); Heating also increases the blood flow, causing elasticity of the muscles and connective tissue surrounding the joints, minimizing stiffness and pain, preparing the muscles to work more efficiently.
Ice Vs. Heat
In the past few days, the articles I’ve read have compared the differences between “icing” and “heating” injuries. The common advice or recommendation that keeps appearing -
“Ice an injury right after it happens to immediately reduce swelling and inflammation. Continue resting, icing, using compression and elevating, as necessary. Heat the injury before you begin activity to help warm and loosen the muscles. Use heat for relaxation and relief, especially at night.”
Ibuprofen and NSAIDs
I asked The Twitters about beginning an ibuprofen regimen with inflammation and soreness in my knees. Some of you said it was completely OK to use NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) if I’m experiencing stiffness, soreness or swelling. And some of you said “no, absolutely not, it will only mask the pain, causing further injury!”
Through researching articles, I come across a lot like THIS ONE - warning against masking the pain, over-use, and long-term effects of pain medications, NSAIDs. Obviously, the main benefit of taking medicine is instant relief. I took a few ibuprofen at night, and again in the morning, and the difference in how well I felt was AMAZING.
I think it’s completely up to to the person, and should be addressed based on personal needs. But if it’s a long-term, persistent problem, then it really should be addressed by a medical professional.
Worth noting: the importance of stretching. Seeking medical treatment, when appropriate. Consulting The Internets for advice and guidance, talking to experienced runners. Cross-training (hello, yoga!), and doing right by your body. Providing healthy fuel and nutrition to aid recovery. Listening to your body. Listening to your body. Listening to your body.
This is a huge learning process for me. Obviously, R.I.C.E. goes far beyond the simple “rest, ice, compression & elevation”, and I think the biggest lesson is to take each issue or injury as they come and address them with the best information and most effective treatment plan possible; following the guidelines, but also listening to your body and always seeking medical treatment, when needed.
Do you follow Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation? What are some of your tips or suggestions for injury-recovery?