While most of my tennis friends practice “The Three I’s” for rehab – Ice, Ibuprofen, and Imbibing (!) – the true standard acronym to follow for acute and sudden injuries is RICE: Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation.
But I think the key word here is “sudden,” as in a sprain, muscle strain, pull, or tear; and not for other “overuse” injuries such as tendonitis. For the sudden injuries, taking this immediate action can help relieve the pain, while limiting the swelling to help speed up the healing process.
• Rest: This is no doubt the most difficult remedy for many of us to follow. Stopping playing from a severe injury is easier to do, than from one that “creeps up on you,” like tendonitis. For sure it is the right thing to do; not only so that you don’t further injure the area, but to also give your body all the energy it needs to heal itself effectively.
And a related problem is coming back too soon. One trainer told me, “When you think you are ready to come back from an injury and start playing again, that is when you should give yourself one more week!”
• Ice: This is a critical step for both acute and longer-term injuries … and to be used as a preventative measure. Picture major league pitchers after a game: they immediately wrap their arm in an ice pack to prevent further injury to their income-producing appendage.
If you have an ongoing problem, there are professionally designed and produced ice packs available at sports stores and online to wrap with Velcro around specific parts of the body. These are kept in the freezer and pulled out for use after each match or injury.
Many people use their own ice cubes and water in a plastic bag or frozen peas in a plastic bag. One great tip from a physical therapist I visited after my shoulder injury is to put one cup of rubbing alcohol in a quart Ziploc bag with three cups of tap water. Seal the bag and put it in the freezer overnight. You will have a great “ice-slush” bag that you can wrap around any joint.
Another great treatment for a reachable injury is to use one ice cube wrapped in a paper towel and do an “ice massage,” which both chills the injury and provides a healing massage to break up and rebuild the scar tissue.
But the therapist cautions not to put ice directly on the skin: it is very, very cold and can freeze the skin. And to use the pack each day for 15-20 minutes.
• Compression: This step is for the acute injury to help limit and reduce the swelling, which slows down the healing process. Any pharmacy will have a wide assortment of ACE bandages in a variety of sizes and shapes. It is also a good idea to return to the court with a wrap on the injury to both protect the injured area and to keep it warm. Caution: do not wrap so tight as to create throbbing by reducing the circulation.
• Elevation: Again, this is for the acute injury to help reduce swelling. The idea is to keep the injured area above the level of the heart. For example, for a sprained ankle, recline on the couch watching TV tennis with a beer in one hand and your foot raised up on two pillows.