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Joint and Muscle First Aid

When to Use Ice and Heat

By K. Jeffrey Miller, DC, DABCO

You're at the park on a glorious Saturday morning playing a friendly game of basketball with your fellow weekend warriors. You jump for a rebound and land awkwardly, twisting your knee, and drop to the ground in pain. Moments later, you've been helped off the court by teammates and are watching your knee slowly but surely start to swell.

What should you do next? Too many people essentially shrug off the pain and return to the game after a few minutes of "rest," hoping everything will return to normal. That attitude can turn a simple strain or sprain into a chronic injury that limits your activities for weeks or even months.

When joint and muscle injuries occur, immediate application and continuation of first aid is vital. Delayed or incorrect first aid will slow the healing process dramatically. What do you do when you or someone you know suffers this type of injury? Here are a few things you can do immediately to start the healing process.

The R.I.C.E. Recovery Formula

Man clutching at his injured knee. - Copyright – Stock Photo / Register Mark Remembering the acronym R.I.C.E. is of great help whenever joint or muscle first aid is needed. The acronym stands for Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation. Immediately following an injury involving the muscles or joints, these four steps should be taken:

Resting an injured area reduces the stress and strain which, in turn, reduces the chance of further injury. When an injury occurs, immediately stop using the injured area.

Ice applied to an injured joint or muscle reduces swelling and bleeding by slowing blood flow to the area.

Compression (wrapping or taping the area of injury) reduces swelling and gives extra support to injured tissues. Compression applies primarily to the extremities (arms and legs).

Elevation of the injured body part above the level of the heart slows blood flow to the area by forcing the heart to pump "uphill." Reducing blood flow reduces swelling. Elevation applies primarily to injuries involving the extremities (arms, legs, feet and hands).

Heat or Cold: Which to Use?

Actually, heat and cold are both important components of recovery following an injury, but it's important to understand which to use and how to achieve maximum benefit. Remember these general rules when considering whether to apply ice or heat:

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