What is RICE? Rest. Ice. Compression. Elevation.

Since the 1960’s, athletic therapists, physiotherapists, chiropractors and medical doctors have touted this acronym as the best approach to dealing with sports and soft tissue injuries. However, its effectiveness has not been proven by evidence or research, and some studies even suggest that RICE can slow the body’s natural healing process.

So why have these experts for so many years been recommending a completely unsubstantiated course of action? Herein lays the problem; the goals of the RICE method are to reduce pain and stop swelling, but chasing the symptoms does nothing to facilitate healing.

Helping your body heal itself

When you roll your ankle or hurt your knee playing sports, soft tissues are damaged.  They need to be repaired.  So an important sequence of events takes place: our immune system enters the area, gathers up the damaged tissue, clears it away, and then finally regenerates new healthy tissue.  The inflammatory phase of this sequence involves the immune system gathering up and clearing away the damaged tissue and is a vital component.  You can have inflammation without healing, but cannot have healing without inflammation. It is crucial.

Our bodies use a system of channels, called our lymphatic vessels, to clear away inflammatory fluid from around our cells. When our muscles contract, our bodies naturally generate pressure on these vessels, thereby clearing away the inflammatory fluid and waste from the damaged area.  To accelerate the healing process, we need to support this system. Visit an Oakville Chiropractor nearby today for advice and help if you are suffering in pain.

Why RICE is wrong

R – “Rest” is often interpreted as “immobilize”, or ceasing movement. If our muscles are not contracting, the tissue will become congested: impeding the healing process and exacerbating pain signaling.

I – Icing the area will slow down the signaling that takes place in the nerves, thus reducing pain levels. If you are simply looking for pain relief, icing is an effective method – however, it will slow down immune processes occurring locally. The immune cells attempting to heal the tissue will become sluggish as their metabolism slows.

C – Compression will help press any excessive inflammation out of the area via the one-way lymphatic vessels.  However, it should also always be combined with movement and should not be used continuously.

E – Injured people are often told to raise the injured area above the heart to improve blood circulation and reduce swelling. Elevating a swollen area will provide a very minimal effect on the clearance of inflammation and will perpetuate additional immobilization.

The right method

Assist your natural healing process with movement.  The continued activation of your muscles will allow the healing process to continue as it is designed to do so.  Inflammation will be cleared away naturally and the tissue will heal to it’s fullest potential.

When to seek treatment

But how can I move when it hurts so much?  Sometimes you can’t, in which case some assistance may be necessary.  The best Chiropractors in Oakville can apply certain soft tissue techniques that have been designed to clear the excess fluid by pressing and guiding the fluid along the pathways of the lymphatic vessels. Interferential current, or IFC, may be applied near the injured area, which will stimulate a light contraction of the muscles that surround these local lymphatic vessels, thereby assisting the movement of the inflammatory fluid.

Don’t just wait for the pain to go away.  Understand the problem and facilitate the healing process to limit recurrence and prevent chronic dysfunction.

If you would like more information on the proper way to treat soft tissue injuries or have comments about this article, please feel free to leave your feedback below.

-Dr. Justin Guy, Oakville Chiropractor