Sports are an excellent way to get in exercise and to socialize with other people, whether you're playing an individual sport or team sport. They can also sometimes lead to injuries, such as sprained ankles, strained muscles, and head bumps. Before you head out for after-hours medical care, here are a few things that can be done to stabilize a sports injury. Just remember the word “RICE.”

What is the RICE method for injuries?

RICE is an acronym for basic care following an injury and stands for Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation.

Rest

First and foremost: rest. Do not let anyone continue playing with an injury or the athlete finish a game. There is no sense in pushing their limits, making them hurt more, and seriously aggravating the initial injury for a victorious game. Medical attention is more important and ultimately can alleviate the injury to allow the player to return to their sports sooner.

Ice

Applying an ice pack is frequently the first go-to therapy for a musculoskeletal injury (a muscle, bone, or joint). I usually limit its application to about 15-20 minutes at a time but repeat the application after a 30-minute break. Some people are more sensitive to ice than others and should limit its application even further. Those individuals should be even more cautious when applying ice to fingers and toes.

Compression

Compression with an elastic bandage can be helpful, but the bandage should not be too tight but rather just snug enough to allow blood flow to still get through to and past the injury (fingers and toes should not turn pale or blue). Certainly, bandaging is more efficient when a joint (ankle, wrist, etc.) is the source of the injury.

Elevate

If possible, elevate the injured area to prevent or control swelling along with the ice application. The injured limb should be elevated above the level of the heart which can be eased by having the injured player recline down if necessary. Elevation is even more important when the swelling is more severe.

Should I take medication for a sports injury?

Over-the-counter painkillers (acetaminophen) can be taken, following the dosage information on the packaging, to manage pain. 

Can I give medicine to a child?

It is okay to give your child some acetaminophen or ibuprofen if they need help to manage their pain and if they normally can take these types of medications. It will not mask their symptoms so much that it will alter their exam by a medical professional. If there is a possibility of surgery though, all oral medications as well as food and drink should be avoided until checked by a health care provider.

When should you seek medical attention?

Some sports injuries don't require medical attention, while others very clearly do. If a joint or bone looks abnormal or deformed, try to support and maintain the injury until transported to the nearest Emergency Department. If you're unsure if a bone is broken, or suspect an injury requires more attention than basic first aid, an urgent care center can be your first stop. X-rays are often but not always necessary and splinting of the injured area can be managed there with an appropriate referral or disposition generated once the problem has been diagnosed.

Safety tips

The best injury care is to prevent the injury from happening, to the best of your ability. Wear protective gear that is appropriate for the type of sport you're playing, such as knee pads for volleyball or shin guards for soccer. Don’t forget to apply sunscreen on all exposed skin surfaces before heading outdoors, even in winter or on cloudy days. Helmets are a must for any day spent bike riding or hitting the slopes. Make sure to stay hydrated and take breaks to avoid heat stroke

We hope you get out and play safely and without injury, but if you need us, Lifespan Urgent Care centers are now open in Providence, Middletown and Warwick. 

Olivier Gherardi, DO

Olivier Gherardi, DO

Dr. Olivier M. Gherardi is the medical director of Lifespan Urgent Care, which is part of Lifespan Physician Group, the largest multispecialty practice in Rhode Island.