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RICE method to reduce muscle aches, swelling, stiffness & joint pain

Updated: Mar 7, 2020

Written by: Zoe Ziegler, PA-C

Life can get hectic. Whether we are busy running around all week, working long hours, exercising to get in shape or taking our dog for daily walks - these things can unfortunately take a toll on our bodies. Exercising, work and just life’s daily activities can often cause soreness, stiffness, swelling and pain. Often, muscle soreness and pain may be normal if you are trying something new for the first time, changing your exercise duration/intensity or changing your daily physical routine. Over time, these aches and pains should improve on their own. This article recommends some tips and tricks to help manage your pain!


“R.I.C.E”: Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation. This is a great acronym to remember to remind yourself of the recommended tools to ease your pain.

REST: Typically, our bodies are great at telling us when we have overdone it. Listen to your body! Avoid weight-bearing on the affected area of the body and take things easy for a couple of days to let your body rest and recover.

ICE: Indirect ice, like wrapping an ice pack in a thin towel or paper towel, is a great option for quick pain relief. Ice can help reduce inflammation, making it generally a better option to help with pain compared to heat. Use ice over the affected area for no more than 20 minutes at a time, up to 4-8 times a day to help manage pain and reduce swelling and inflammation.

COMPRESSION: If experiencing significant swelling, compression is a great option for you. Light compression over the injured area, using an elastic wrap/bandage may help reduce your swelling and improve your pain. The area should be wrapped snug, but avoid wrapping the area too tight to ensure proper circulation. If your fingers or toes become cold, discolored, or tingly then you have wrapped it too tightly and should loosen it immediately.

ELEVATION: To reduce swelling, elevate the affected body part on a pillow or stack of folded up blankets. If elevating your leg, the ankle must be higher than the knee, and the knee must be higher than the hip in order to let gravity take the swelling away from the affected area and circulate it back through your system. If elevating your hand, elbow or arm, then the hand/wrist must be above the elbow, and the elbow above the shoulder. Typically this also means the affected body part is elevated above heart level. This is probably the quickest and most effective way to decrease swelling over the course of a few days. After surgery, your surgeon might recommend you elevate whenever you are not up walking around, and then slowly decrease the time you spend elevating as time goes on. Basically, if the area is swollen and painful, the RICE method is often very helpful.

Medications: There are a number of medications out there for pain, swelling, and inflammation. Which medicines should you consider and how should you take them? See my article dedicated to this topic to find out. Click here to read it!

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