Swelling can be managed by using RICE, which stands for Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation. Our physiotherapist will advise the patient on RICE after some appointments.
Reducing pain and swelling by resting the injured area is just common sense, but you have to know how long to rest. Use the injured limb or joint too soon, and what started as a minor problem can turn into a major one quickly. Rest for the first 24-48 hours after injuring yourself and resume modified activities after that. If it hurts, go back to resting to avoid aggravating the injury.
To decrease pain and keep the swelling down, fill a plastic bag with crushed ice and put it directly on your injury. Frozen gel packs can be used, but put a damp towel on your skin to shield it from frostbite, since gel packs are typically much colder than ice. Some like to use instant cold packs, but they can be costly and ineffective because they warm up too quickly. Many athletes simply use a bag of frozen peas as an inexpensive, convenient ice pack.
Apply your ice pack for 15 minutes and then leave it off for 15 minutes for best results (although use a shorter icing period for smaller extremities such as fingers and toes). If your skin becomes red, you’ve left the ice pack on for too long. For the first 24 to 72 hours after the injury, apply ice frequently and pair this treatment with elevation and compression.
If your injury is swelling, wrapping an elastic bandage around it will compress the tissue, taking down the swelling. You’ll know your wrap is too tight if your toes or fingers feel numb or turn blue – loosen it! This is why you shouldn’t use compression wraps at night; you might not notice excessive tightness until tissues have been damaged. Apply the bandage (sometimes called a tensor wrap) at a point just below the injury and working upwards toward your heart, which is another way to reduce swelling. Rewrap every 2 or 3 hours. Remember, you can always apply ice with your elastic bandage.
Elevation is simply propping your injured area up so it’s higher than your heart. Doing so will decrease swelling by allowing gravity to pull the drainage through your lymph system.
RICE is a good start toward treating your injury. Your doctor may have more ideas for reducing swelling.
Sometimes medication is required to treat pain and reduce swelling. Be sure to consult your doctor before taking any new medications! Some will relieve pain and swelling at the same time.