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RICE: How to Handle an Injury at the Gym

Posted Feb 01 2011 7:00am
Oh, look—it's February. How silly of me to assume that winter would start to slow itself! It seems as though my neck of the woods is enduring yet another winter storm, made even worse by what we like to call "the lake effect". It was the talk of the town yesterday, and I think everyone hit the grocery store just in case. I suspect we'll all survive, but not without a few hours spent shoveling the driveway or scraping a windshield or two. I don't think we have it nearly as bad as those of you out east, but you can rest assured we sympathize.

Winter storms are brutal no matter where you live, thanks to the unending dumpage of snow and ice. But still, we endure. Despite our greatest hopes, winter is here. At least until spring—which means we've got a few more months of snow and ice ahead of us. Let's talk about ice, actually. More specifically, let's talk about RICE. It's a very important acronym in the fitness industry as it addresses the immediate care of an acute injury. Despite our greatest efforts to maintain our safety, accidents can and will happen. We sprain ankles, we pull muscles—RICE to the rescue! Let me explain.

First and foremost, you must cease and desist any activity if you think that you might have just injured yourself. Take the injured body part out of use immediately. In other words, just REST. Stop whatever activity is causing you pain. Then work on calming your heart and mind so that you can best address the situation. This entire first step is key, and is often the step we bull-headed people choose to ignore. Never ignore pain, it might only get worse.

We can't do much to prevent the immediate swelling up of an injured body part. It happens to be our body's way of protecting itself. But we can take action to prevent any subsequent swelling over time. Other than a roll in the snow, a fresh bag of ICE will always be your best defense. You'll want to keep it on your injury for 20 to 30 minutes, and make sure you have some sort of layer between the ice and your skin. No sense getting frost bite. Make note, if your injured body part is in any way numb, you'll want to skip this step and seek attention from your physician.

 Pressure acts much like ice in that it prevents further swelling, although we call it "COMPRESSION" in this particular acronym. This is where a bandage comes into play. Wrapping the muscle holds an injury in tight, but it must be wrapped correctly in order to work. You'll want to make sure the bandage extends to the largest muscle group above and below the injured body part to assure maximum support. And don't, by any means, wrap it so tight that your circulation gets cut off. Geeze, don't do that. Keep the blood flowin'!


This last step reminds me of a U2 song . So next time an injury plagues you, name it "Bono" and picture it saying "I need you to elevate me here." Because he's right, dontcha know. (And probably much better looking that your injury, at least in my opinion.) Employing EL-E-VA-TION is another very important step in the RICE process. Try and stay comfortable as you raise your injured body part to or above the level at which your heart sits. Gravity will draw the swelling down. Funny how that works.

From there, you should decide whether or not you need to see your physician. Always best to err on the side of making an appointment if there's ever any question. Better safe than sorry, right?

And I'm sure you're wondering this—what role does heat play in all of this? Remember that ice is always good for an acute injury. A sudden injury. Heat helps those nagging pains, chronic pains that surprise us without any signs of swelling. Like shin splints or low back pains. Applying heat will loosen up the area, and 20 minutes of it is generally good enough. Of course, if you're still sore after a good workout, you might want to seek out a bag of ice.

It's confusing, I know. And my hope is that you won't be plagued by an injury any time soon, but I thought I'd remind you of the RICE method. You know, just in case.

Question: Have you ever had to employ the RICE method? What happened?
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