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RICE: Immediate Measures to Treat Soft Tissue Injuries

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Posted on November 26, 2013

Updated on October 16, 2023

A soft tissue injury is a general term used to describe any damage to muscle, ligaments or tendons that can result in a sprain, strain, muscle pull, or tear. These injuries are common to sports and recreational activities. Soft tissue injuries can also result from car accidents or slip and fall accidents.

A soft tissue injury can result in inflammation, external or internal bleeding, bruising or swelling. Healing occurs as the damaged tissue is replaced by collagen, also known as scar tissue. In most cases, it takes time for the tissue to be repaired and for the injured individual to resume normal physical activities or sports.

RICE as Effective Treatment for Soft Tissue Injury

When someone suffers a soft tissue injury, appropriate first aid treatment can reduce complications and help the body heal faster. RICE, is a popular acronym for general soft tissue injury treatment. RICE stands for Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation. Employing these immediate first aid measures can relieve pain, limit swelling and help protect the injured soft tissue.

  • Rest: Rest is vital to protect the injured muscle, tendon, ligament or other tissue from secondary injury or further strain. If injury is suspected, stop activity and protect the injured part from further damage. Avoid putting weight on the injured part and get help moving to a safe area. Resting the injured part is important to promote effective healing. If the pain is not severe, rest the injured part until pain and swelling has subsided.
  • Ice: When icing an injury, choose a cold pack, crushed ice or a bag of frozen peas wrapped in a thin towel to apply to the injured area. This provides short-term pain relief and also limits swelling by reducing blood flow to the injured area. Never leave ice on an injury for more than 20 minutes at a time. Longer exposure can damage your skin and even result in frostbite. A good rule is to apply cold compresses for 15 minutes and then leave them off long enough for the skin to warm up – 15 minutes on / 5 minutes off.
  • Compression: Compression also helps limit and reduce swelling and can help relieve the pain. An easy way to compress the area of the injury is to wrap an ACE bandage around the swollen part. If you feel throbbing, or if the wrap feels too tight, remove the bandage and re-wrap the area so the bandage is a little looser and circulation is restored.
  • Elevation: Elevate the injury to help control swelling. It’s most effective when the injured area is raised above the level of the heart.

Common Symptoms of Soft Tissue Injuries

Symptoms of potential soft tissue injury include:

  • Headaches
  • Neck pain
  • Sore muscles or spasms in the back, deep muscle pain
  • Tingling or numbness in the extremities
  • Dizziness or nausea

If one begins to experience any of these symptoms, it is important to follow the RICE method for immediate first aid. For minor to moderate injuries, follow up with a doctor’s appointment. Severe injuries and acute pain may require a trip to the emergency room.