Injured? Try R.I.C.E.

Wheaton athletes can often be found lying around in the north wing of the Chrouser Sports Complex with ankles, knees, shoulders and almost any other injurable body part wrapped in gauze. Sometimes they are doing exercises, or walking to dinner after practice, but you can almost always find some athlete with an ice pack strapped on as they go about their daily life after a practice or home game.

Formally, RICE stands for Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevate. For each new injury, RICE can take different forms, calling for new and creative ways to keep track of each new injury. For example, with a shoulder injury, RICE may call for the use of a sling, while a knee injury could call for crutches and pillows. However, some aspects of RICE remain the same for all injuries.

When a sports-related injury occurs, these are the first four things to be done to start and continue the healing process. For any injury, Ice and Rest are aspects of recovery that the injured individual needs to implement. The physician or trainer in charge can recommend a certain amount of time off for rest or other alternatives that allow the athlete to continue to play depending on the injury.

If it’s a minor injury, Compression and Ice can be chosen to allow the athlete to continue to compete but still ensure treatment of the injury when they are off the field. If the injury is more complicated and needs more time to heal, all four aspects of RICE will often be implemented for longer periods of time, involving wrapping the injured area, elevating it, icing it and resting it for a week to a month, depending on other  courses of action being taken (surgery, physical therapy, etc.)

Often, if the athlete is in season and the injury is mild enough, they will still practice and play but will be wrapped with gauze and an ice pack afterwards — hence, all the athletes walking around with ice packs strapped around their knees, ankles and shoulders all the time.

Each aspect of the RICE treatment has a different purpose. Physiologically, the human body requires recovery time after strenuous activity. Every time muscles are pushed to their limits, they undergo micro tears which then need to repair and heal. Rest allows time for the muscles to recuperate and heal before being pushed again.

Especially when an injury is at play, rest needs to be taken seriously. The human body works quickly to repair itself, but for larger injuries it takes more than a day or two for that muscle to put itself back together. “I try to rest my body to heal injuries, but it’s hard with swimming because it is very easy to get out of ‘swimming shape,’” junior swimmer Michaela Sandeno said. “Resting for long periods of time is hard to do.”

Ice is something that can be used as a healing agent for either the short term (an ice bath after a game) or long term (rotating between ice and heat to heal a muscular injury). Ice baths are exactly what they sound like: it is a huge bathtub filled mainly with ice and a tiny bit of ice water. Athletes lower themselves into the ice bath and endure the icy cold, numbing pain for about 20-40 minutes. The cold temperature helps flush lactic acid out of the affected muscles.

Junior Pole Vaulter Mackenzie Kennedy said, “I’ve always been told to ice after practice if I am feeling any kind of pain. It’s just what you do. It helps with soreness and decreasing inflammation.”

Lactic acid builds up in one’s muscles during anaerobic exercise, causing the muscles to feel sore and tired. Anaerobic exercise is when your muscles do not have enough oxygen being delivered to them for how much work they’re doing.

When one does this for minutes or hours on end — for example, by sprinting 800 meters, playing a soccer or hockey game or running a marathon — the muscles will have a lot of lactic acid build up that needs to be released before exercising again; otherwise, one will feel tired and not be able to perform at one’s best.

The cold of the ice bath causes muscles to contract, pushing a majority of the lactic acid out of the affected muscles groups to allow for better rest and recovery afterwards, according to an article by Andy Schmitz published on Active.com. Ice can also help reduce swelling and relieve pain from the affected area, according to an article published on WebMD in 2017.

“The training staff recommends icing, trying to stretch more after practice to help cool down the muscles, and heating before practice to help warm up the muscles,” Sandeno said.

Compression is often paired with ice because it helps in a similar way for the affected muscles. A compression wrap can support the affected muscles so they are not working so hard when going about daily duties, helping them to rest after workouts. It can also increase blood flow to the area, thus increasing the amount of oxygen provided to the affected muscles and reducing swelling to help speed up recovery, according to an article by Meghan Hegarty published in Today’s World Clinic.

Lastly, elevation also has to do with blood flow to the affected area. Gravity helps drain the excess blood from the injured area of the body. This reduces swelling and allows the blood that does arrive to the affected area solely treat the injury.

For proper elevation, the injured part of the body should be above the heart. This is easily done with knees and ankles if the person lies down and props the injured knee or ankle up on pillows, or with shoulders if you sit up to rest instead of lying down.

Each injury calls for different and specific treatment depending on the location and severity of the injury, but RICE can be used by anyone at any point to at least relieve some pain and start the healing process.

If injured, one can start by implementing the various aspects of RICE but then quickly consult a physician for further specified treatment.

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