How to use the PRICE regime to treat acute sports injuries
Why use the PRICE regime?
PRICE stands for Protect, Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation. The main aim of combining these five elements is to limit the extent or severity of your injury. It does this in two ways:
- It stops you damaging more cells. Take an injury like a muscle strain for example; when you strain a muscle you tear some of the muscle cells. Once it is torn, the muscle loses some of its strength which means that, if you continue to run or play sport, it is even easier to strain it further and damage more cells.
- It limits the internal bleeding and swelling. When you strain or sprain a body part, you usually also tear some blood vessels which causes internal bleeding in that area. If it bleeds a lot, the pressure from the accumulated blood can cut off the blood and oxygen supply to the adjacent (uninjured) cells, causing them to die. We call this a secondary injury because these cells weren’t damaged when you first injured yourself. Excessive swelling can also cause a secondary injury.
How to effectively apply the PRICE regime
- P = Protect
- R = Rest
- I = Ice
- C = Compression
- E = Elevation
This means that, as soon as you sprain or strain something, you stop your sport or activity immediately. Don’t play the hero and try to push through pain. All you’ll do is make your injury worse and delay your recovery.
During the first 3 to 5 days, your injury will still be very fragile and if you’re too active you may injure it further. This does not mean that you can’t do anything – just choose activities that do not put strain on the injured area.
By applying ice over the injured area, you can cause the blood vessels to constrict which will help to stop the bleeding. This does not mean that you should stick an ice pack on and just leave it there as that may actually have the opposite effect.
The body’s initial reaction to the cold is to restrict the blood flow so that it doesn’t lose too much heat (so the bleeding stops). If you leave the ice pack on for too long and your skin becomes too cold, the brain will get a message that the skin is now at a temperature that can potentially damage it.
In reaction to this, the brain will try to protect the skin by opening the blood vessels in that area so that the blood flow can increase and warm your skin. This may also cause the internal bleeding to restart.
Only ever apply ice for 10 minutes. Then remove it for 10 minutes to allow the skin to recover and then reapply it for 10 minutes. If the area that you’re cooling is very fleshy (like your thigh muscle) you may be OK to ice it for 20 minutes, but no longer.
You can read more about how and if you should use ice to recover from a strained calf in this article.
Gentle compression can be a very effective tool to help stop the bleeding and also limit the swelling. However, you can also make your injury worse if you apply it too forcefully and cut the blood/oxygen supply off to that area.
Firm but comfortable pressure is what you’re looking for. You can apply compression to your injury by wrapping a bandage around it or by wearing compression socks or tights.
The important thing is that it should not be uncomfortable.
When you elevate your injured body part above the level of your heart, you slow down the blood flow which in turn will help the bleeding to stop.
It can also help to reduce any swelling as gravity will help to remove the excess fluid from the area.
Just be careful that you don’t put strain on your injury while elevating your limb – it should be in a comfortable position and not cause an increase in your discomfort.