RICE vs MEAT: The fastest road to recovery

For decades, the prescription for any type of soft tissue injury has been RICE – rest, ice, compression, and elevation. And often the use of NSAIDs like Ibuprofen was encouraged alongside. The goal of the RICE method and Ibuprofen is to decrease inflammation and manage pain. These may seem logical, but by digging deeper we find that this may not be the fastest method to healing.ankle-clipart-Sprained_Ankle_Picture

First, why so much focus on decreasing inflammation? That would assume that the body’s natural reaction – inflaming the location in question – was wrong and somehow bad. In fact, inflammation may be exactly what the injured area needs. Early stages of inflammation are influenced by the immune system protecting the site from further injury and controlling the potential for infection. Subsequent inflammation helps to re-grow the damaged tissues and encourage the healing process. So stopping inflammation may actual slow the healing process.

More recently the prescription to encourage fast healing is MEAT – movement, exercise, analgesics, and treatment.

MEAT: Early movement is being used in medicine in many more places because of its contribution to healing. Movement increases circulation which allows the body to remove waste and deliver nutrients required for healing. Movement can also encourage healing by placing a small amount of stress on the area to which the body can respond. In addition, movement can help prevent  adhesions and scar tissue from forming, which will prevent future mobility. Movement should be attempted very carefully, however. Move only up to the point of pain and stop. Let pain be your guide. We don’t want to cause additional injury. An example of movement for an ankle injury would be drawing the alphabet with your toes in the air.

EXERCISE: As mobility returns, small bouts of exercise can be introduced to continue to promote blood flow and healing. Here again stress on the area signals the body to grow. Exercises for the ankle might include some work with an exercise band.

ANALGESICS: Studies have shown that too much pain may actually delay healing. Plus we don’t want to deal with pain all day. Analgesics like Tylenol can help reduce pain without the inflammation suppression of NSAIDs. But they should be used sparingly as they do put stress on the liver. Pain reduction is particularly important before bed. Sleep is prime time for healing and if you aren’t getting a deep sleep then you aren’t healing.

TREATMENT: Treatment is a broad category and depends largely on the injury. Treatments are best prescribed by a PT or specialist doctor to best address the injury. However, contrast baths are often incredibly helpful and an easy form of treatment. In contrast baths you alternate between ice cold and hot applications in order to promote blood flow to the area, thus speeding healing. Other treatments may include ART, Graston, and other traditional therapies.

In addition to the above, I find is wise to assist the body in any way possible with its healing duties. Glucosamine and Chondroitin have long been used to assist in soft tissue and joint repair. These substances are actually building blocks of tissue. Proteolytic enzymes have also been shown to assist with pain management and with recovery. Turmeric, specifically the substance curcumin, has been shown to have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, both useful in injury situations. One supplement that has all of these substances in one supplement is Hammer Tissue Rejuvenator (15% off link).  I used this myself with great success while healing from a bad ankle sprain.

Why then does your doctor still use RICE? Well, your doctor is most concerned with getting you out of pain and avoiding your return to him with more issues. RICE delivers on that goal. But if your goal is to get back running as quickly as possible, MEAT will serve you better.

So while RICE has a focus on reducing pain and making the patient more comfortable, MEAT is directed to the fastest recovery time. Now, immediately after an injury, it is wise to stay off the affected area and ice may contribute to pain management without medication, so the RICE protocol certainly can have its place. But as movement becomes possible the protocol should shift to MEAT.

Still unsure? Do a quick search yourself on RICE vs MEAT and you’ll find plenty of research. Here is just one medical source discussing this issue and includes plenty of studies listed at the bottom. http://www.caringmedical.com/sports-injuries/rice-why-we-do-not-recommend-it/. Best of luck on your recovery!


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