A reliable remedy for most minor sprains and strains is RICE, an acronym for Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation. RICE is most effective if you begin the process within 48 hours of injuring yourself. RICE includes the following four components:
Rest: Stop performing activities that aggravate your injury. (Don't stop all activity — that’s rarely the solution.) Wait until you’ve had two completely pain-free days before doing exercises that involve the injured area.
Ice: Contrary to popular belief, ice, not heat, helps reduce the pain and swelling of most common injuries. Ice your injury for 15 to 20 minutes, three or four times a day, for as long as you feel pain.
You can apply ice with a store-bought pack, a plastic bag full of ice cubes, or even a package of frozen peas. But don’t allow ice to sit directly against the skin. (You may end up with ice burns.) Instead, wrap whatever is holding your ice in a thin towel.
Throw out the peas after they’ve been used as an ice pack a few times. The thawing and refreezing renders them less tasty than they would’ve been before.
Two areas may not respond well to icing: your neck and back. These injured areas may be so sensitive to the cold that you may tense up. If that’s the case, a moist heating pad or wet, warm towel is best for treating the injury and allowing your muscles to relax.
Compression: Put pressure on the injury to keep the swelling down. Use a damp elastic bandage or buy a special brace or wrap for your knee, elbow, or wrist. Wrap the bandage tightly enough so you feel some tension but not so firmly that you cut off your circulation or feel numb.
Elevation: Elevating your injured body part drains away fluids and waste products so swelling goes down. If you’ve hurt your ankle, you don’t need to lift it up over your head. You only need to elevate it higher than your hip so gravity assists the blood flow downward. Propping up your ankle on several pillows or books does the trick (pillows will be more comfortable, of course).
Sometimes RICE isn’t enough to treat an injury. If the pain is truly excruciating or is bothersome for more than a few days, your injury probably needs more aggressive treatment and possibly medical attention. If you experience excessive swelling, discoloration, or bleeding, you may need a trip to the emergency room. Use your judgment. If you see a bone fragment sticking out of your ankle, don’t simply stick an ice pack over it.