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JONES: A super solid solution for strains, sprains

For most people, working out and getting in shape can occur safely and soundly. Yes, contrary to the popular expression, gain with no pain is actually possible. With that being said, all physical activities do pose at least some inherent risk.

While most injuries can be avoided by proper warm up and slow progression, strains and sprains can occur if technique is not properly monitored. Though medical attention is always suggested when problems occur, mild injuries can often be successfully treated with the fast application of one simple acronym, RICE.

When you strain a muscle or tendon (or sprain a ligament), you are actually tearing the tissue a little (primary), a lot (secondary), or completely (tertiary), depending upon where it falls on the slight-to-severe scale. Although the initial tearing definitely damages the tissue, the swelling that occurs in response often causes more injury than the original incident.

It’s all about blood flow, and time is of the essence. Reducing excessive swelling to the affected area goes a long way to prevent more pain. So, it’s RICE to the rescue: Rest – Ice – Compression – Elevation

Rest: With a new injury, don’t do anything that might bring more blood to the area. Even if it only hurts a little, it means that you are probably continuing to re-injure the tissue trying to heal. Prolonging activity can delay healing, increase pain, and cause further injury by stimulating additional internal bleeding and swelling. Rest is best.

Ice: The initial application of ice soon after an injury results in the constriction of small blood vessels, assisting in the cessation of internal bleeding from injured structures. Constriction of blood vessels ultimately decreases the amount of blood that can collect around the injury, helping to prevent additional tissue strain and damage.

Use ice packs or bags or frozen vegetables for larger areas, but avoid placing them directly on the skin. Extremities might be better off being completely immersed in a bucket of ice water.

Drastic cooling of specific tissues initially stimulates additional blood flow to the iced location. This extra blood flow often causes a burning sensation that is sometimes close to unbearable. Gradually adding ice to the bucket during the submersion method definitely helps soften the blow.

After approximately 10-15 minutes, the iced body part should go numb. This is when the ice treatment really begins and you must get to, and past, this numbing point. A total of 20-30 minutes of ice is sufficient. Also, be aware that the iced body part must also have ample time to thaw and warm before using it.

During the icing experience is a great time for you to call your doctor or trainer, if justified.

Compression: Compression decreases swelling by controlling internal bleeding and limiting the accumulation of blood and plasma near the injured site. Without compression, fluid from adjacent tissue seeps into the injury area. Surplus blood and fluid accumulating around an injury causes more swelling and retards the healing process. Elastic bandages are great, but be careful not to compress too tightly so that blood supply is impaired. Err on the side of conservative caution.

Elevation: Elevating the injured part above the level of your heart is another way to decrease swelling and pain at the injury site. Elevate the affected area in whatever way is most convenient. Gravity is a strong force, and you can use it to your advantage to keep additional swelling and injury at bay.

Use RICE when necessary, but don’t rely on it exclusively. Injuries are serious and should not be treated lightly. If pain is severe or persists, contact a medical professional soon (if not sooner).

Even if you choose to not implement RICE, or just plain ice, please do not heat, stretch, or massage any tissues which have been recently injured. It might feel good to your brain, but it’s not for your body.

Heat and massage draw blood to the area and create more swelling, which further tears tissues. Yes, a Jacuzzi and hot pack relax the muscles and feel great, temporarily. Tomorrow, your body will be further inflamed and injured by the increases in blood flow and accentuated swelling.

With regard to stretching an injured area, keep in mind that strains and sprains are, by definition, overstretched tissues. Stretching and massage only further stretch what is already overstretched.

Heat, stretching, and massage can all be used in the long term. First and foremost, open your freezer and grab a big bag of RICE.


Doug Jones earned his Master’s Degree in Exercise Physiology from the University of Maryland and has served professionals and personalities as a concierge fitness trainer for decades. As a resident of Kaua‘i and Connecticut, he has helped millions of people learn the secrets of fitness and fat loss, both online and in person. To submit your questions, or for more information, call (808) 652-6453 or visit
Source: The Garden Island

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