Yale Athletics Training: What to Do for Simple Athletic Injuries

When To See A Doctor:
Listen to your body. Several signs will indicate to you when you should see your doctor:

  • Pain is severe or persists
  • Inability to move the injured part of your body
  • The injury does not appear to be healing

Immediate Care of Injuries:
The immediate care of common sports injuries (sprains, strains,contusions, etc.) consists of a four step program that should be followed as soon as an injury occurs, whether or not you go to a physician. The four part program is called R I C E, and stands for REST, ICE, COMPRESSION, and ELEVATION.

As soon as an injury occurs, it is important to stop the activity,immediately! To prolong stopping could cause further damage to the injured part. When a body part has become injured, the body reacts with an inflammatory process which causes swelling, redness, local increase of heat in the area, pain, and malfunction. The degree of each of these dependant on the severity of the injury.

Put ice on the injured part as soon as possible after the injury.Ice or cold, specifically, controls swelling by constricting the blood and lymph vessels, decreases muscle spasm (which often accompanies injury), and decreases some of the discomfort and pain caused by the inflammation. By reducing the swelling that collects around the injured area, the rehabilitation time will be lessened and you will be able to return to your sport more quickly.The ice should be applied for 20-30 minutes. It could be in the form of an ice bag, chemical packs, frozen vegetables, can of soda, snow, etc.. It should be applied every hour for the next several hours.

Compression also helps to limit swelling in the injured area. The compression should be applied concurrently with the cold treatment (a wet elastic bandage). After the ice treatment, a dry elastic wrap or tape should be applied comfortably firm not too tight to cut off circulation, or too loose to allow further swelling. If lackof sensation or numbness is felt the wrap is probably too tight.The use of felt or sponge pads around bony prominences (ankle bones)will insure even pressure around the injured part. The wrap should be loosened while going to bed, but worn continuously until the swelling has subsided (about 48-72 hours).

The fourth part of the treatment is to elevate the injured part while being compressed. In elevating, support should be placed under theentire limb. The height should be above the level of the HEART to help drain the excess fluid from the injured area. While sleeping,the compression wrap should be loosened and the foot of the bed or mattress raised by some suitable object (for injuries to the lower extremity) or the head of the bed or mattress raised for the upper extremity injuries.


RICE should be continued for at least 48-72 hours. Under no circumstances during this time should and form of heat be applied, including excessive time in hot showers or baths. That would just increase the swelling and inflammation. When you're sure the swelling has stopped, give yourself anextra day of RICE. During the acute (first 72 hours) stage of the injury, no other activity should be performed. Your body has been injured and will need all the help it can to heal the injury. This means optimal healing conditions-proper nutrition, your normal amount of sleep, and a positive attitude. The same amount of effort you placed in your athletic endeavors should be placed in your rehabilitation program.