Fitness activities have the potential to create injuries. There is not enough room in this column to list all the sprains, strains fractures and contusions I have suffered in my 46 years of sports and fitness.
Statistics indicate that spring and summer months are high seasons for injuries. Kids are involved in everything from organized sports such as soccer, softball and baseball to riding bikes, scooters and skateboards in their free time. Not to be outdone, moms and dads switch into weekend warrior mode subjecting their bodies to stresses outside their norm. Knowing what to do when an injury occurs can get you back in the game much faster.
In my formative years here at Southeastern Regional Medical Center, I was employed as an athletic trainer. For those of you who don’t know what trainers do, their role is in the prevention, treatment and rehabilitation of fitness-related injuries. I spent many hours on the sidelines at local high school football games taking care of the really injured, slightly injured and those pretending to be injured. At the Saturday morning bumps and bruises clinic, I was exposed to every sort of home remedy imaginable, from the particularly pungent egg yolk and vinegar wrap to the nauseating wad of spit-soaked tobacco poultice. While I admire the effort and creativity, I still remember the acronym drilled into my head as an undergrad: RICE.
— Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation.
RICE is critical in lessening the severity of everything from strains and sprains, contusions and even tendonitis. Let’s look at each of these separately and its role in treating an injury.
Rest: Rest in this sense is not necessarily lying on the couch with a cold drink and the remote, but rather getting off the injured body part as quickly as possible, keeping in mind that the injury may be serious. If you turn your ankle, sit down immediately and do not try to walk it off. Continued movement increases the circulation to the area and can result in more tissue damage. Whenever you suffer an injury, it is best to rest that body part until you can make sure it does not require medical attention and you can use it with a minimal amount of pain and discomfort.
Ice: Ice, while bringing smiles to the faces of kids getting a snow cone, can also reduce a grown man or woman to tears. The application of ice to a body part is downright unpleasant. First it’s cold, then painful, and finally if you hang in there long enough, mercifully numb. The rub is to get someone to leave it on long enough to do any good. The physiology of ice on an injury is pretty simple. Ice reduces swelling and pain by decreasing circulation to the injured area. In contrast, applying heat does the opposite, causing more swelling and tissue damage. Ice should be applied immediately after the injury for a minimum of 15 minutes at a time for the first 72 hours.
Compression: Applying compression to an injury can also help minimize the swelling. Ace wraps, which are available at most drug stores, can be used on any limb. When applying a compression wrap, it is important to start at the point of injury and work away from it. For example, to wrap a foot or ankle, start at the toes and move up towards the calf. When wearing the wrap, make sure it is not too tight, cutting off circulation. For that reason it is best not to sleep in a wrap so you can be aware of changes in circulation.
Elevation: Keeping an injured body part elevated helps reduce swelling and pain. By keeping the body part elevated above the level of the heart, you reduce circulation to the area.
Using the RICE for the initial 72 hours after an injury is essential in reducing pain, swelling and facilitating healing. Stay away from hot packs, hot water soaks or heating pads, as that will only make the injury worse. If you have severe pain, swelling or deformity, please seek the advice of a physician. Remember that RICE is nice!
— Kathy Hansen has over 20 years in the health and fitness field and has used over 20 tons of ice on various injuries. She can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.