RICE Therapy for Foot and Ankle Sports Injuries

In an active, outdoor community such as the one we have here in the Coachella Valley, most people are no strangers to taking a few hard knocks on the feet and ankles. Twists, sprains, bruises, stubs, and other injuries are, for many, unfortunately a fact of life. Although there are plenty of things you can do to minimize your risk (wear good shoes, stretch, warm up and cool down, build toward new activities slowly, etc.), there’s no way to ensure 100% prevention, especially if you love to run, walk, play, and exercise.

While you should never underestimate a foot or ankle injury (even a relatively simple sprain can cause lifelong chronic issues if you don’t take care of it properly), you can manage pain and swelling from more minor incidents can be managed at home via the RICE therapy protocol both before and after your appointment with Dr. Danciger.

What is RICE?

RICE stands for rest, ice, compression, and elevation. These four steps aid in reducing pain, minimizing swelling, protecting your injury from further damage, and facilitating quicker and more complete healing.

Let’s look at each component in a little more detail

Step One: Rest

No, this doesn’t mean stay in bed all day! What it does mean is avoid putting weight or pressure on the affected foot. Continuing to walk, run, and play on a sprain or other foot or ankle injury not only inhibits your natural healing processes, but can actually make the initial injury worse, bruising, tearing, and inflaming tissues even further.

Crutches, a cane, a walker, a walking boot, or other tools may assist in helping you offload your injury and give it the time and space it needs.

Step Two: Ice

Using ice packs or other cold sources (a bag of frozen veggies works great in a pinch) is a great way to deal with pain and swelling, especially in the first few days after the injury. This works for two major reasons: first, the ice providing a numbing effect to dull your pain receptors, and second, it decreases blood flow to the area, working wonders for swelling.

However, you can definitely have too much of a good thing! Remember to ice responsibly: Don’t place the ice pack directly on exposed skin (wrap in a towel first), and don’t apply ice for more than 15-20 minutes at a time, at most once per hour (so your skin can warm back up to room temperature.

Step Three: Compression

Compression is frequently the most overlooked step (because it often requires some special tools), but it can make a big difference. Take an elastic bandage (such as an Ace wrap) and wrap it around the injury. It should feel snug, but definitely not too tight—if there’s any tingling, cooling sensations, pain, or swelling below the bandage, you’ll need to loosen it. In a pinch, you can use trainer’s tape or even an ordinary piece of cloth or clothing as a compression bandage.

Compression not only supports and protects the damaged tissues surrounding the injury, but it also reduces swelling and keeps blood pumping efficiently through the area.

Step Four: Elevation

We know it isn’t always possible, but whenever you are sitting, reclining, or lying down, try to keep your injured foot above heart level (or at least parallel with the ground). You can use an extra chair, footstool, or a couple of extra pillows as needed. This strategy enlists gravity as your ally in helping blood get back to the heart efficiently.

When REST Isn’t Enough (or Even When It Is)

As we said in the beginning, never underestimate a foot or ankle injury. While RICE is often your best first-aid approach for soft tissue injuries, always make an appointment with a podiatrist for a full evaluation and discussion of any additional treatments you may require.

At our office in Palm Desert, Dr. Harvey Danciger provides decades of experience and the latest technologies and techniques (including laser therapy for pain and swelling), helping people just like you recover quickly and fully from injuries and other problems. He can help you, too. To schedule an appointment, please fill out our online request form, or call the office today at 760-568-0108.

Dr. Harvey Danciger
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Dr. Harvey Danciger is a podiatrist and foot surgeon in Palm Desert, CA specializing in the foot and ankle