Ankle injuries can happen in an instant. Whether it’s a sports injury or the result of stepping into a sandcastle mote on St. Augustine Beach, immediate treatment is key to faster recovery. That means applying ice and pressure to stop the swelling and elevating the foot in a comfortable position. Commonly, it’s known as the R.I.C.E. protocol
What is R.I.C.E.?
Done correctly, this immediate treatment of ankle or other joint injuries slows the body’s initial reaction to the injury, which can cause additional damage through excessive swelling, and makes way for long-term healing and recovery.
How to treat an ankle or joint injury:
In most cases, ankle injuries involve a stretching or straining of the tendons and/or ligaments (Grade 1) and do not require surgery. Simply applying ice, compression, and elevating the injury immediately, then allowing it time to heal will result in a full recovery in around one to three weeks.
In more severe cases involving a partial tear (Grade 2), complete tear, or rupture of the tissues around the joint (Grade 3), surgery may be required, and a full recovery could take months. In all cases, however, applying the R.I.C.E. protocol is essential.
Step 1: Rest the injured body part immediately
The moment the injury occurs, stop using the joint. In Grade 2 or 3 joint injuries, pain, lack of joint mobility, and instability could make activity impossible. But in minor Grade 1 injuries, it may be tempting to “tough it out,” or “walk it off.” This risks making the injury worse—recovery time could increase, or it could become a Grade 2 injury.
A good rule of thumb is to look for swelling or a throbbing sensation. Either of these indicates an injury to the ligaments or tendons has occurred and activity should stop immediately. It’s time to apply ice.
Step 2: Ice the injured joint for 20 minutes at a time
Cold causes injured blood vessels to contract, helping to stop internal bleeding and reduce swelling. This is critical as excessive swelling can cause further damage to the injured tendons or ligaments and reduce range of motion. Swelling also causes more pain.
Ice should be applied as quickly as possible after an injury. This could mean digging ice from a nearby cooler or even from a cold beverage. Wrap ice in a towel or other cloth to prevent direct contact with the skin. Ice the injury for 20 minutes, three times per day for up to 72 hours.
Step 3: Compress the injured area with an elastic bandage
Compression also helps reduce swelling, allowing healing to begin. After ice has been found and applied, use an elastic bandage to wrap the injured area, but not too tightly. The idea is not to completely restrict blood flow—if any tingling or loss of feeling is felt below the wrap, it is too tight. Check the wrap periodically to ensure that swelling has not occurred, making the wrap too constrictive.
Use the compression wrap for 72 hours after the injury. After that, the risk of swelling should have reduced to make further ice and compression unnecessary.
Step 4: Elevate the injured joint above the heart
Find a comfortable position and raise the injured joint above the heart. For ankle injuries, the easiest way to accomplish this is to lay down flat or nearly flat and place pillows, stacked towels, or other soft items under the lower leg. As with the ice and compression, elevation helps to reduce swelling and pain in the first few days following an injury.
Pain and swelling should reduce within a few hours of a Grade 1 injury if the R.I.C.E. protocol is applied correctly. Should pain and swelling continue or worsen, or if you suspect the injury to be more than a minor sprain or strain, please seek medical assistance immediately.
You can give us a call or stop by our office on Anastasia Island. We can help you apply immediate treatment of ankle and joint injuries correctly and advise you on your best long-term recovery options. Should surgery be an option, we can likely handle it in our office so that you never have to deal with the hassle of a hospital visit.
Use this R.I.C.E. poster
Save this free R.I.C.E. graphic on your mobile device or print it out so that you always have a reminder of correct ankle or joint injury treatment steps. Better yet, share it on social media—you may help out a friend without even knowing it.