Before starting an exercise program, most people make very specific weight loss or fitness goals and tailor their regimens to meet or exceed these objectives. During this process, almost no one builds in time off to recover from injury, like a strained or pulled muscle. So, in addition to the physical consequences, injury recovery usually means frustration and depression.
The RICE approach, if done correctly, addresses both the physical and mental elements of injury recovery, so world-class athletes and weekend warriors come back stronger than they were before, both mentally and physically.
Often, when doctors say “get some rest,” that means lying in bed or some similar lack of activity. But in this context, “rest” means do not use the affected muscle area any more than is minimally necessary.
In other words, cross-train all you want. If a sore knee keeps you from running, go to an exercise that does not impact the joints, like biking or swimming. However, hold a little bit back. Consider exercising at about 80 percent of your normal exertion rate, so if you normally only chat in short bursts while running, pedal slowly enough that you can carry on a conversation, even if your words are somewhat labored.
Cross-training addresses the emotional component of a fitness injury. The exercise releases endorphins, so the physical high is still there. Moreover, given the continued progress towards fitness goals, many people experience less frustration when they cross-train.
Similarly, ice has both mental and physical benefits. Cold is an analgesic pain reliever because it numbs the nerves and dampens pain signals to the brain. Ice also reduces excess inflammation, which helps muscles repair themselves more quickly.
To return to the previous knee example, any bag of frozen peas from the freezer will do in a pinch. But a specially-designed ice bag for knees is even better because it conforms to this joint and stays Siberia cold for at least twenty minutes, which is the minimum length of time to ice an injured muscle.
Inflammation and swelling are the two chemical reactions that most impede healing. We’ve already seen how ice decreases inflammation, and compression decreases swelling.
Once again, in a pinch, an ordinary Ace bandage wrap will compress a knee, but a specially-designed compression sleeve yields much better results. Plus, the gentle pressure on the area simply feels good.
Gentle pressure is the key, because over-compression worsens swelling instead of improving it. If you feel any numbness or tingling, the compression wrap is probably too tight.
Lifting the injured area above the heart, or any significant elevation for that matter slows blood flow and helps manage the aforementioned swelling and inflammation.
While there is no need to go out of your way to elevate, this should be done whenever you are sitting or lying down. Elevation can make sleeping rather challenging, but after the first night or two, you should be used to it.
The treatment time varies according to the severity of the injury, but most knee strains and sprains should be better in about three weeks. Your body should tell you when you are ready to resume normal activity, but it may be a good idea to see a doctor or sports therapist as well.