Immediate injuries need immediate P.R.I.C.E.

Jan 24, 2017

When you suffer an injury, the first 48 hours is the most important. This first phase of healing is called the acute phase, when blood rushes to the area to fix the problem. The body naturally experiences heat, pain, redness and swelling to protect itself. A change in colour and a stiff joint are also signs of injury. Chronic injuries are different than acute because they are nagging aches and pains that get worse over time. Both acute and chronic type injuries can be painful and prevent the body from healing.

Pain is the body’s number one warning that something is wrong. Injuries can be painful and stop you from competing in your sport. Pain is from the inflammation and swelling in the injured area. You can experience it right away, like when you sprain your wrist (acute), or it can develop over time (chronic), like when your legs do not recover after a hard workout.

How you treat an injury can help your injury recover faster. P.R.I.C.E. is a way for you to remember what to do if you get injured. The letters stand for Protection, Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation. When you suffer a sprain to your ligaments, strain to your muscles, or a bump that causes bruises, follow these simple instructions to help stop the swelling.


Protect the area from further injury by first stopping what you are doing. As an athlete, you will want to push through the pain, but the right call is to stop and find out what is truly wrong. Do not use pain as your guide when an injury first happens because the adrenaline of exercise often makes you ignore that you are injured. Other ways to protect the area are braces and body position (ex: for a knee sprain, use crutches to take weight off your leg).


Pretty simple… if you are injured, your body needs to rest and heal. This gives time for the swelling to go down in the joint or muscle. You do not need to stop all activity though, in fact, cross training other areas gets you back to playing sooner. If you injure your shoulder, spend time working on your cardio and leg muscles. Be smart with rest and modify exercise so you stay in the game. 


Using ice will help slow the blood flow to the injury. Less blood flow means less inflammation and less pain. Apply ice for up to 20 minutes, 3-4 times a day for the first 48 hours. Do not apply heat or receive a massage during this time because it restarts the blood flow.


Another way to prevent more swelling is compression. This also helps stop blood from moving into the injured area. Athletic tape, a tensor wrap, and a neoprene sleeve are just a few ways you can do this.


When you’ve injured your arm (shoulder/elbow/wrist) or leg (hip/knee/ankle/foot), elevate. This redirects the blood from the area of injury to the heart and prevents more swelling.

What To Ice With 

An ice pack system with a gel ice pack for the freezer, a cover to put it in, and an elastic Velcro strap make it easier to apply the P.R.I.C.E. technique. A simple alternative is a bag full of crushed ice or frozen peas and a tensor wrap. Both do a great job of compressing and getting ice to the injured area.

How To Ice 

When applying ice, think about the stages you will feel: Cold, burning, aching, numbness. If you feel the area is numb then the ice has been on long enough (usually 15-20 minutes). Put a towel over the wrap and/or the skin to prevent “ice burn” caused from icing irritation. You can remove the ice every 5 minutes to see how the joint is moving. You will often be able to move your joint more as the pain is controlled using ice.

Hot vs. Cold

Heat and ice are both helpful in healing your injury, but they help in very different ways. Ice stops the blood flow to the area temporarily so the swelling and pain can decrease. Heat increases blood flow to the area so healthy blood can get there sooner. The key is when to use either ice, heat, or both. During the first 48 hours, ice is best. After 48 to 72 hours, heat can gradually be applied. For example, with an ankle sprain, you can alternate hot (for 1 minute) and cold (for 1 minute). This technique helps flush stale inflammatory fluids from the area and brings in nutrient-rich fluids.

The P.R.I.C.E. technique is a great way to use immediate medical attention when a less serious injury has occurred. The use of protection, rest, ice, compression, and elevation is most effective for acute injuries. Remember, if the injury seems more serious, seek medical attention. With smart, timely and efficient treatment, you will be back in action soon!