Often I get asked “What’s the best thing to do when I get hurt: Do I ice? Do I heat? Keep it still? Move it around?”
Well I’m going to go over a few common injuries that almost all of us have had at one time and what to do when they happen.
If you’ve ever played a sport and hurt yourself, you’ve heard of “R.I.C.E” Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation. This is the standard protocol that has been passed down from generation to generation. RICE works but in some cases, your recovery can be greatly elongated by following this methodology.
Let’s break down RICE. “R” Rest: “I strained my back” “I pulled my hamstring” “ I sprained my ankle.” If you went to the regular medical doctor with any of these injuries the first recommendation would be to let it “rest”. Let the body heal it self by not re-aggravating the area. Stay in bed, keep the area still and you’ll be fine. Now this is where I have a slightly different view on the subject. Depending on the injury, always consult your medical professional first before dealing with an injury.
My problem with resting an injury has to do with how blood flows through the body. We all know that the heart pumps blood with every beat throughout the organs and muscles of the body every second of every day. But did you know that the heart is not the only mechanism helping the body circulate blood through the body? Your muscles play a huge roll in circulation. Let’s take your legs for example: The heart pumps blood all the way down your legs, along with a little help from gravity, but to get blood back up the legs, would take quite a bit of additional pressure and strain on the heart. Remember it’s now going against gravity, if you are standing up. This is where the muscles come into play. With every contraction of the muscles, in the legs, blood is squeezed back up to the heart. The veins have special “V” shaped valves that open and close to help prevent blood from flowing backwards. A little fun fact: When these valves break blood can flow backwards down the legs causing the veins to engorge, in turn causing what we call “varicose” or “spider” veins.
Now that we have established that muscles aid in the removal of blood from the extremities, how does this relate to the “R” in RICE? First I have to explain a little about the other letters.
If you sprain your ankle and it begins to swell, the first thing you think of is Ice and Elevation. The “I”, and the “E”. The ice causes vasoconstriction, or the narrowing of blood vessels. This can slow down the rate of swelling to the area. If you had a muscle spasm where there is not enough blood going to an effected area, then you would use heat. Heat causes vasodilatation or the opening of the blood vessels, increasing circulation to the area. The “E” or elevation is to help work against gravity, to further slow down the process. Lastly the “C” or compression, limits the amount of swelling by creating a barrier confining the excess blood from entering the effected area. Compression also gives additional support to the weakened ankle.
Now back to the “R”. When I was at USC, working in the athletic training department, I saw more strains and sprains from athletes, than I could count. My superiors always told me to use the “RICE “method to treat injuries on-site. This is where I found myself to be a tad rebellious. I was always told to immobilize the area. My knowledge of how blood moves through the body and how muscles act as a pump to move blood from the extremities, caused me to realize that this treatment wouldn’t work. Knowing there were no broken bones, why would I stop the only thing that would move old blood out of the affected area and fresh new healing blood into the area? So the first thing I would do with a sprained ankle is check to see if it was broken, elevate it and then start moving the foot and ankle. What this did was create a pump, flushing out the old stagnant blood bringing new nourishing blood to help prevent scar tissues from forming and accelerate healing. What I found, if I followed this theory, was that mobility increased, pain decreased and the total time of recovery was cut almost in half. The movement wasn’t extreme, but was enough to retain range of motion and mobility.
I’ve found this to be true with almost all injuries. Your body starts to atrophy within 36 hours of not moving. Muscles begin to wither and range of motion becomes limited. If you are able to keep movement to an area that is injured the body can keep nourishing blood flowing to that area decreasing the time it takes to heal.
So what I’m trying say is lying in bed waiting for the pain to go away is a bad idea. MOVE! It doesn’t have to be huge movement but you have to move, get back on the horse, test your range and you will cut your recovery time in half.
I gave the example of the ankle sprain; the process can apply to almost any injury.
Strain your hamstring? Stretch, pump it, keep it moving or it will become ridged.
If you pull your lower back and can barely move. Try bringing your knees to your chest and do small circles holding them with your arms. Or slowly, with your knees bent, lying on your back, bring one knee up at a time 6 inches of the ground, alternating each leg.
Did you hurt your shoulders? Try pot stirrers: Bend over with your arm straight and relaxed and make a circle motions. Try wall climbs: use your fingers to help you walk your hand up the wall with your arm straight. Try different angles; front, side….
Sprained ankle: Try writing the alphabet with your foot….A B C….
Regardless what the injury, the quicker you can regain mobility the quicker you are on your way to a full recovery.
For more information on treatment of injuries or if you have specific individual questions, please respond to this blog and I will do my best to answer. Or you can always email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.