If you’ve ever experienced an acute injury like a sprained ankle or pulled back muscle, you’ve likely heard to use “the RICE method” to reduce swelling and help the healing process. But depending on the injury, there may be times when physical therapists would now recommend the “MEAT” treatment method as an alternative, or in addition to, RICE.

The difference between these two approaches is that RICE is focused on reducing pain and swelling, while MEAT is focused on promoting overall healing. So it’s possible that both types of injury treatments may be helpful in your healing process.

Learn more about RICE vs. MEAT injury treatments, when to use each and how a physical therapist can help you on your road to recovery.

What is the RICE method for injuries?

RICE stands for rest, ice, compression and elevation. It’s used to reduce swelling and inflammation immediately after a minor, acute (sudden) injury like a sprained ankle.

Rest

Taking time to rest for a couple of days allows the injured area to heal, so take a break from the sport or activity that caused your injury. Also pay attention to how you’re moving your body and make sure there’s little to no movement of your injury.

Ice

To reduce pain and swelling, apply ice to your injury for 10-20 minutes at a time, three or more times per day. This is especially important during the first 24 hours. Put the ice in a towel or plastic bag to keep the ice from directly touching your skin.

Compression

Wrapping the injured area with an elastic bandage (such as an Ace wrap) for 48-72 hours can reduce swelling, provide support and hold it in the correct position. Make sure the wrap is snug but still comfortable. It shouldn’t cause numbness, tingling or increased pain to your injury.

Elevation

You’ll also want to keep your injury elevated for the first 24-72 hours, including overnight if possible. This will reduce swelling and make it easier for your body to heal. If you still feel pain and see swelling after a couple of days, the injury could be more severe.

When to use RICE therapy for an injury

The RICE method is most effective when used immediately after a minor injury to help reduce initial pain, swelling and inflammation. Depending on your injury, it may make sense for you to use RICE for 24-72 hours after getting hurt. If your minor injury isn’t better in a couple of days, make an appointment with a physical therapist who can provide additional treatment and support.

The RICE method shouldn’t be used for serious injuries like broken bones unless recommended by a doctor. To find out the best treatment for your serious injury, head to orthopedic urgent care as soon as possible.

What is the MEAT method for injuries?

After resting your minor injury for a couple of days, it will likely be time to use the MEAT treatment method, which stands for movement, exercise, analgesia and therapy.

Movement

The act of moving your injured area increases blood flow to promote healing. Plus, a small amount of stress on injured ligaments supports stronger tissue growth. So it’s best to move your injured area as much as the pain will allow while protecting it from impact that could cause damage.

Exercise

As your injury begins to heal, you’ll be able to move it more and start exercises to help the healing process continue. This could be a great time for you to work with a physical therapist. Physical therapy has many benefits for all types of injuries, even those that are more minor or acute.

Analgesia

Analgesics are medicines that can reduce pain and stress to help your body heal from injury. Managing pain is an important part of recovery because if you feel prolonged, intense pain, it will be harder to move your injury. Pain can also cause limping and other changes in movement that can impact the quality of your sleep and affect your overall health. For some injuries, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen may help for short-term use, and other injuries may require different pain relief options recommended by your doctor.

Therapy (or Treatment)

Completely recovering from any injury takes time and attention. As part of therapy, your physical therapist will assess your injury, health history and goals to create a treatment plan for you. This could include several therapy methods, including:

  • Exercise
  • Manual therapy
  • Dry needling
  • Taping
  • Spinal manipulation
  • Soft tissue mobilization
  • Neuromuscular re-education techniques
  • Advice on returning to activities
  • Pain relieving modalities (massage, cold and heat packs, etc.)

MEAT is usually the recommended choice for long-term healing, especially for soft tissue injuries to the ligaments, tendons and cartilage – most commonly sprains, strains, tendonitis and bursitis. These structures don’t get much blood supply to begin with, so increasing that blood flow with MEAT will help with a faster recovery.

Deciding between RICE and MEAT

Wondering whether RICE or MEAT is best for your injury? In most cases, think of RICE and MEAT as a full meal – it’s a combination approach beginning with RICE as the appetizer. Once you reduce the initial swelling and decrease your pain, you can move onto the main course. MEAT will ensure you continue moving the injured area and progress treatment for a faster recovery.

When to see a doctor for an injury

If you’re experiencing extreme pain and think you might have a broken bone, head to orthopedic urgent care for immediate attention. For other injuries, take time to see if you get better with RICE. For additional support, we have many orthopedic and physical therapy clinics in the Twin Cities.

If you’re ready to take your first step toward recovery, no referral is needed to make an appointment with a physical therapist. They can develop a personalized treatment plan that will identify, diagnose and treat your injury or chronic pain condition – which may include aspects of MEAT – to help you move and feel good again. Learn more about what we treat at TRIA.

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