RICE Method for Injuries

Medically Reviewed by Poonam Sachdev on April 24, 2024
9 min read

If you’ve ever hurt your ankle or had another type of sprain or strain, chances are your doctor recommended rest, ice, compression, and elevation (RICE) as one of your first treatments. The RICE method is a simple self-care technique that aims to reduce swelling, ease pain, and speed up healing.

You can treat minor injuries with the RICE method at home. You might try it if you have an achy knee, ankle, or wrist after playing sports. There is controversy, however, as to whether the RICE method is the best approach to healing a mild sprain or strain.

Gabe Mirkin, MD, introduced the acronym RICE in The Sportsmedicine Book, published in 1978, to help treat sports injuries. While this method gained wide acceptance among coaches, sports trainers, and athletes, Mirkin himself changed his recommendation in 2015. He writes on his website that while ice can help ease pain from injury and muscle soreness, it doesn’t speed up healing. Complete rest can also delay healing. 

Research in recent years has shown that ice and rest can reduce the effectiveness of the inflammation process that your body naturally uses to help recover from injuries, even causing further tissue damage.

You can still use the RICE method with today's updated recommendations and guidance from your doctor.

Step 1: Rest

Pain is your body’s signal that something is wrong. As soon as you’re hurt, stop your activity and rest as much as possible for the first 2 days. Don’t try to follow the “no pain, no gain” philosophy. Doing so with certain injuries, such as a moderate to severe ankle sprain, can worsen the damage and delay your recovery. Doctors say you should avoid putting weight on the injured area for 48-72 hours. Resting also helps prevent further bruising.

Mirkin now advises that you should follow your doctor’s guidance on rest and rehabilitation, but you can usually start movement the day after an injury if it doesn’t cause more discomfort and pain.

Step 2: Ice

Ice is a tried-and-true tool for reducing pain and swelling. But you should not ice for too long, as there's a risk of tissue damage. See your doctor if you  have pain or swelling that gets worse or doesn’t go away.

How long should you ice an injury?

Apply an ice pack (covered with a light, absorbent towel to help prevent frostbite) for 15-20 minutes every 2-3 hours during the first 24-48 hours after your injury to reduce swelling. Don’t have an ice pack? A bag of frozen peas or corn will work just fine. 

Today, Mirkin recommends limiting the duration of ice application: Apply ice for 10 minutes, stop for 20 minutes, and then reapply ice in this cycle one or two more times. Stop applying ice within 6 hours of your injury.

Step 3: Compression

This means wrapping the injured area to prevent swelling. Wrap the affected area with an elastic medical bandage (such as an ACE bandage). You want it to be snug but not too tight -- if it’s too tight, it’ll interrupt blood flow. If the skin below the wrap turns blue or feels cold, numb, or tingly, loosen the bandage. If these symptoms don’t disappear right away, seek immediate medical help.

Step 4: Elevation

This means raising the sore body part above the level of your heart. Doing so reduces pain, throbbing, and swelling. It’s not as tricky to do as you might think. For example, if you have an ankle sprain, you can prop your leg up on pillows while sitting on the sofa. You can keep the injured area raised when possible, even without ice.

Use the RICE method for minor injuries such as:

Sprains. When a ligament around one of your joints is stretched or torn, you have a sprain. 

Jammed finger. You might jam your finger in a minor accident such as a fall or while playing sports. If the pain isn’t severe, you can treat it with the RICE method, but if the pain hasn’t improved after 24-48 hours, you should see a doctor.

Repetitive strain injury. This can happen when you’ve hurt your tendons, muscles, or nerves from doing a particular motion over and over or using a body part too often. This can affect your wrist, thumb, shoulder, and more. Causes can be work-related or practicing hobbies, such as playing a musical instrument. 

Knee injuries. Knees are one of the most frequently occurring joint injuries.

How long should you RICE an injury?

Use the RICE method for the first 1-3 days after an injury. After day 3, you can start using the joint or injured area for daily activities if it’s not too painful. If your pain and swelling haven’t improved in 5-7 days since your injury, see your doctor.

What injuries should you not use RICE for?

While the RICE method can be used for numerous injuries, it shouldn't be used for: 

  • Breaks or tears in organs (such as the spleen or appendix) or soft tissue
  • Dislocated joints 
  • Fractured or broken bones

After you’re injured, it can be hard to know whether you can treat yourself at home or if you should see a doctor. Guidance for some of the more common injuries includes:

Foot injury. Go to the emergency room for treatment if:

  • You injure your foot and quickly have pain that is severe with swelling.
  • You can’t put any weight on your foot.

Also, visit your doctor if your foot injury happened a few days ago but the swelling hasn’t improved after at-home treatment or if your pain hasn’t improved several weeks after the injury.

Knee injury. You should go to the emergency room if:

  • Your knee is bent.
  • You heard a “pop” at the time of injury.
  • You can’t put any weight on it.
  • Your knee swelled up immediately.
  • Your pain is very bad.

See your primary doctor if your knee is swollen, red, and painful.

Muscle strain. Go to the emergency room right away if:

  • You can't move the affected part of your body.
  • You see bleeding around the strained muscle.
  • You have swelling that gets worse.

Make an appointment with your doctor if your pain doesn't go away after treating it at home for a few weeks.

While doctors and physical therapists still recommend using the RICE method for treating injuries, many others don’t think it’s the best approach.

One aspect of RICE under scrutiny is the use of ice. Some research indicates that ice can actually slow down healing.

Another aspect of the RICE method under question is “rest.” Some doctors believe that it is better to actually move the injured muscle or body part rather than to rest it. The belief is that lack of activity can shut a muscle down and limit blood flow. Movement, however, can improve blood flow, which removes metabolic waste.

Since Mirkin (who introduced the RICE method) has stated that he doesn’t think it’s the best approach for acute injuries, alternative treatments are seeing renewed interest.


The PEACE (Protection, Elevation, Avoid anti-inflammatories, Compression, Education) approach is to be used for first 3 days of an injury. It involves limiting movement to keep the injury from getting worse but avoiding complete rest. Like RICE, you should raise the injured body part above heart level and use compression to reduce swelling. Inflammation is thought to help with the healing process, so anti-inflammatory drugs aren’t recommended. It also involves educating yourself on the benefits of remaining active to aid in recovery.


In the mid-1990s, two doctors published a book that suggested replacing rest with movement. The idea of MICE (Movement, Ice, Compression, Elevation) is that as long as a severe injury or bone fracture is not involved, movement does more good than rest. The method uses gentle range of motion movements and a slow return to normal activities. Movement helps generate oxygen and blood flow, which can aid in healing.

Additional research also indicates that movement helps maintain, repair, and strengthen bones and muscles.


The MEAT (Movement, Exercise, Analgesia, Treatment) approach is another protocol now recommended for treating mild injuries. It calls for gentle, pain-free movement followed by resistance exercises. This approach also suggests using over-the-counter drugs such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) or acetaminophen, depending on your particular needs and keeping in mind the potential side effects. These drugs can help you with movement and exercises, as they can be harder to do if you’re consistently in pain. And lastly, MEAT also proposes focusing on treatments, which can range from physical therapy to acupuncture and more.


This approach can be used on the fourth day after an injury and later. The LOVE (Load, Optimism, Vascularization, Exercise) method recommends loading the injured area with movement, gentle exercises, and normal everyday activities; remaining optimistic about your recovery; doing exercises that don’t cause pain; and doing additional exercise to aid in mobility, strength, and balance.


Your doctor may suggest using NSAIDs (such as ibuprofen and naproxen) or acetaminophen along with the RICE treatment. These are available over the counter and by prescription. Talk to your doctor about your health history before taking these medications and if you feel like you need them longer than 10 days.

Some of the alternate approaches to the RICE method recommend avoiding NSAIDs, as they argue that inflammation can help with the early stages of healing.

Whether you’re a weekend warrior, work out daily, or exercise occasionally, these tips can help prevent injuries:

Wear appropriate shoes for your activity. This includes wearing shoes that are the right size and are made for the sport you’re playing.

Take occasional breaks. Even if you are pretty fit, short breaks give your muscles a break and help prevent heatstroke or sunstroke.

Stretch and stay in good condition. Stretching and conditioning your body can help boost flexibility and strength.

Know when to stop. Don’t push yourself further than makes sense for your condition and age. And if you are recovering from an injury, this is critical to prevent making it worse.

Use the correct technique. If you’re new to a sport or exercise, first learn the proper techniques. You may not master it right away, but knowing what you “should” do can help prevent pulling a muscle or twisting your body the wrong way.

Stay hydrated. If you don’t drink enough water, you can get muscle cramps and spasms and even pass out.

Take time to warm up and cool down. Warming up and cooling down not only help your muscles adjust but also your heart.

The RICE (Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevate) method has long been the standard approach for self-care if you have a mild injury (such as a sprained ankle) or a pulled muscle. There is controversy, however, as to whether the RICE method is actually the best approach to healing a mild sprain or strain. Alternatives include avoiding rest and instead remaining as active as possible; or skipping the ice because it could slow down the inflammation that helps in the early stages of the healing process. If you follow RICE but aren’t seeing improvement after a few days, or the pain worsens, see your doctor.

What is the RICE concept for injury?

The RICE method advises rest, ice, compression, and elevation immediately and through a few days after a minor injury.

What is the purpose of RICE when someone is injured? 

The RICE method (Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation) is designed to reduce pain and swelling and speed up your healing.

Is RICE the best way to treat an injury? 

The RICE method still seems to be the standard, recommended approach for self-care after a minor injury such as a sprain, strain, or pulled muscle. But there are many doctors and other health professionals who advise against using the RICE method. They instead recommend you keep moving as much as possible after an injury rather than resting, or recommend not using ice in the early stages of an injury to allow the benefits of inflammation to take place. See your doctor if your pain doesn’t improve after trying the RICE method.

What does RICE stand for in the Red Cross?

The Red Cross has a slightly modified approach for the RICE method when treating people who have been injured —rest, immobilize (which means keep the injured person as still as possible and do not move the injured body part), cool (keep the injured area cool using ice or something else, but take care not to rub the ice on the injury), and elevate.

What does RICE stand for in lifeguarding?

The approach for lifeguards helping to treat musculoskeletal injuries is rest, immobilize, cold, and elevate. “Cold” includes applying an ice pack for 10-20 minutes at a time to reduce swelling and help with pain.