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Sea Sick: Use RICE for sprains, strains


Sea Sick: by Keith Murray

So, you are out to sea and just injured yourself. You tripped and sprained your knee. What should you do?

RICE is the answer. No, not the kind you eat. RICE is the acronym for Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation. You can treat sprains, strains, bruises and pulled muscles with RICE. Here is the easy-to-remember method.


This step is just as it sounds. Stop using and protect the injured or sore muscle, tendon, ligament or other tissue from further injury. Discontinue any activity that may make the pain worse. Your body has just been injured and it needs time to heal itself. If you do not allow the injured area to rest and heal, the injury may become worse.

If necessary, use a sling for an arm or shoulder injury, or crutches for a leg or foot injury. Splints for injured fingers or wrist also can help. Make sure your medical kit has a flexible splint, like the SAM splint. These are great for this type of injury.


Use cold to reduce pain and to prevent or minimize swelling to the injured area. You can apply regular ice in a plastic sandwich bag, cold packs, instant ice, or even frozen peas to the injured area. Place a thin towel over the skin before applying the ice to protect the skin. Never apply ice directly to the skin, as it could damage your skin.

Apply ice to the injury for about 20 minutes, then remove it for 40 minutes, repeating this process at least three times a day for the first two days. The ice will reduce swelling and minimize pain, but the injury should only be iced for 20 minutes at a time to prevent injury from exposure to cold. After 48 to 72 hours, if you have no swelling, apply heat to help reduce the pain.


Compression is wrapping the injured joint or limb with an elastic bandage. The compression bandage should be snug, but not incredibly tight. Wrapping too tightly may cause injury. We wrap the injury for several reasons. Wrapping reduces swelling, it often reduces pain, and it helps to protect the injured area from further injury.

If you feel throbbing, the bandage is wrapped too tightly. Remove it and re-wrap the injured area. Other signs that the bandage may be too tight include tingling, increased pain, numbness, cool skin temperature or swelling in the area below the bandage. Specialized braces, such as for the wrist and ankle braces, can work better than an elastic bandage to reduce swelling.


If possible, elevate the injured area above your heart. Elevating the injury will reduce swelling. If you injured your ankle, you will need to lie down, and place a few pillows under your ankle to get it above your heart. About 12 inches above the heart is your target for elevation.

If necessary, you can add another element to RICE. This would be an S, making it RICES. The S stands for splinting. Splinting will decrease swelling and decrease pain by immobilizing the injury.

After checking with a physician, the patient may consider taking an over-the-counter NSAID, or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug, to manage pain and inflammation. This includes  ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), acetaminophen (Tylenol), or aspirin. However, do not give aspirin to anyone under the age of 19 because of potential health risks such as Reye’s syndrome.

After 48 hours of RICE, if the pain and/or swelling has not decreased, you should seek medical attention. If there is a “popping” sound in the injured area,  seek medical attention immediately. The doctor may want to do X-rays or an MRI to rule out a broken bone or other serious injury. The doctor also may need to immobilize the limb or joint with a splint, cast or brace until the injury is healed, and physical therapy may be required.

EMT Keith Murray provides onboard CPR, AED and first-aid training as well as AED sales and service. His company can be found at Comments are welcome below.

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