RICE—rest, ice, compression and elevation—has been the most often recommended therapy for soft tissue injuries for more than forty years. However, the effectiveness and rationale for the “rest” and “ice” parts of RICE have increasingly been called into question. In part one of this two-part series, we looked at how using ice on a soft tissue injury not only slows the clotting process but may actually delay or prevent proper healing. Now we’ll look at why the “rest” part of RICE is also being questioned.
When you’re injured, the body responds with three sequential but overlapping phases of recovery:
1) inflammation [1 to 3 days];
2) repair [4-21 days]; and
3) remodeling [21 to 365 days or more].
Each phase must be successful, in order for the next phase to be successful. How does “rest” delay or prevent proper healing throughout these phases?
First, what does “rest” in the RICE protocol actually mean? Here, rest refers to immobilization (not moving) and non-weight bearing. So resting actually interferes with completion of both the inflammation phase and the repair phase of recovery!
After you’re injured, fluid and waste products produced by white blood cells accumulate around the damaged site. To remove this fluid, the body relies on lymphatic vessels (part of the lymphatic system). The lymphatic system has no heart, like the circulatory system, to pump fluid—it’s a passive, one-way mode of transportation that relies on the contraction of muscles, which in turn squeeze the lymph vessels, . If you rest a long time, you greatly reduce the movement of lymph fluid, which then allows an accumulation of waste products and excess swelling. Your damaged tissues will not recover well.
Resting (along with swelling and icing) also delays the repair phase. Resting decreases blood flow to the injured site. This delays the formation of new blood vessels that help rebuild tissues, which occurs in the remodeling phase. Stresses to the injury site which occur during movement also help collagen fibers align themselves correctly, so proper healing can occur. Resting also starves cartilage cells in joints of nutrients, because the synovial fluid in the joint which lubricates and nourishes the cartilage, requires movement of the joint to flow.
No one is advocating you walk on a sprained ankle. Rest is important, but in moderation. (Of course, in addition to “factoring up,” all serious injuries should be evaluated by your hematologist!) The key is early mobilization, to regain or maintain range of motion, prevent muscle atrophy, and stimulate the movement of lymphatic fluid. Even simple motions such as wiggling your toes (in the case of an ankle soft-tissue injury) or light stretching are beneficial. Your hemophilia treatment center physical therapist can help you establish an appropriate balance between rest, early mobilization, and weight-bearing. This will help prevent delayed healing and unwanted complications associated with immobilization, while simultaneously minimizing the risk of rebleeding.
And the good news is that elevation (above the heart, for lower extremity injuries) and light compression can both help in healing: elevation by using gravity to assist in the movement of lymph fluid and compression in preventing excessive swelling. So keep these parts of RICE in your treatment plan!
If you’ve ever sprained or strained an ankle or knee, or suffered from a muscle or joint bleed, you’ve probably heard that a couple of days of rest, ice, compression and elevation—RICE—is the surest route to recovery. But this simple at-home treatment has increasingly been called into question, especially the “rest” and “ice” parts. Many physicians and researchers now believe that rest and ice may actually delay or prevent proper healing.
RICE guidelines have been recommended by coaches and healthcare providers for over four decades—ever since the term was coined by Dr. Gabe Mirkin in his 1978 publication Sports Medicine Book. The intent of RICE was to speed the recovery process by reducing inflammation, swelling and pain. However, subsequent research demonstrated that icing actually prolongs the healing process. Dr. Mirkin recanted his original position in 2015, and today, he advises against icing an injury.
How can icing delay or prevent proper healing? When you’re injured, the body responds with three phases of recovery: 1) inflammation, 2) repair, and 3) remodeling. Each phase must successfully occur in order for the next phase to proceed and be successfully completed. That means inflammation must occur before the repair process can begin. If you reduce inflammation, then you delay the healing process.
Why is inflammation good? Immediately after an injury, blood vessels in the damaged tissue constrict (called vasoconstriction) to reduce blood flow; simultaneously, the blood clotting process (called hemostasis) occurs to reduce blood loss. Immediately after vasoconstriction, a type of immune cell in the damaged tissue, called mast cells, release inflammatory chemicals, such as histamines, which cause the blood vessels to expand (vasodilation) and become more permeable. This initiates the inflammatory process and allows other immune cells, called neutrophils, which are attracted to the site of the injury, to leave the blood vessels and enter the space between the cells, where they destroy damaged cells and mediate the inflammatory process. This sets the stage for another type of immune cell—macrophages—to come in and remove dead cells and release growth factors which are necessary for healing. When this process is complete, the neutrophils self-destruct, ending the inflammatory phase of the healing process.
The inflammatory process is extremely complex and researchers are still learning about it at the molecular level. We know that the inflammatory process is not always good: in some auto-immune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, neutrophils that enter a joint during inflammation do not self-destruct, ending inflammation, but hang around and attack the cartilage lining the joints, destroying the joints.
Icing an injury delays healing by slowing inflammation. It slows the activity of clotting factors, slowing the formation of a clot. It prevents vasodilation, which slows the movement of immune cells into the damaged tissue, and the movement of waste out of the damaged tissue. It prevents the release of growth factors necessary for healing. And it increases the permeability of the lymphatic system, allowing fluids to flow in the wrong direction: from the lymph vessels into the injured area, increasing the amount of local swelling.
Icing can help reduce pain, but many physicians now recommend using acetaminophen (Tylenol) to reduce pain, and not ice. Finally, do not use anti-inflammatory drugs, such as ibuprofen (Motrin), to reduce pain: these drugs also reduce inflammation and slow healing—in addition to interfering with the clotting process, which may prolong bleeding.
Next week: Why movement helps in the healing process.
[I have to preface this article by saying that while I never used recreational drugs, lately I have had a consistent, disruptive backache that I am still trying to resolve. It’s interfering with my quality of life by now, and upon recommendation of some people, I’ve tried CBD cream. I have to say I love the results! So I thought I’d reprint this article from the February 2020 issue of PEN, by someone who knows her stuff! …Laurie]
The cannabis plant has been deeply engrained in American history since our country’s inception. Commonly called medical marijuana and hemp, cannabis sativa has been used in everything from textiles and paper to medicines and spiritual tools. Although cannabis has been viewed as harmful or illegal, it has the potential to combat our nation’s opioid crisis, repair some of the harm caused by the war on drugs, and offer Americans a natural alternative to pharmaceutical drugs.
Why do I believe so strongly that cannabis can do all of this? It’s pretty simple: cannabis has been a wonder drug for treating my chronic pain from a spinal cord injury over a decade ago. It has also revolutionized the treatment of my depression, anxiety, and PTSD, and has numerous therapeutic effects when used in its various forms.
After my last back surgery, a microdiscectomy, I took Vicodin to manage the pain, but this would alter my mood and only mask the pain momentarily. I wasn’t myself, and the pain always came back. My medical team said this would be my life. Between the epidural injections and physical therapy sessions, I began researching alternatives.
I tried everything to reduce my pain. I bought gadgets like seat and hand-held massagers, a laser acupuncture pen, and electrostimulation devices. I tried countless complementary therapies like chiropractic treatments and acupuncture. Up to that point, cannabis was last on my list of options. Fortunately, I was introduced to a world-renowned medical professional who was working with patients on low-dose cannabis options with controlled intake of THC. His team gave me a bottle of tincture to try. Three days later, I was pain-free, no longer needing Vicodin, and smiling.
This introduction marked the beginning of my journey with cannabis. I knew the power of sharing my story, and became even more intrigued by the potential of this plant as I weaned myself off a cocktail of anxiety, depression, and pain meds that caused more harm than good. I knew I had to keep learning.
First, I researched the legal history of cannabis. I grew up a DARE1 evangelist during the 1980s and was unaware of cannabis’s history in the US dating back over a century. Hemp was a valuable crop in the American colonies, used for a variety of purposes, including paper and rope. Eventually, it entered American pharmacopeia as cannabis and became a tool for advancing conservative agendas. Today, more than half the country has some form of regulated cannabis, and a majority of states allow the sale and transportation of hemp-derived products.
Next I explored the science of cannabis. I had friends who’d been diagnosed with HIV and AIDS and knew that this was their medicine, but I didn’t understand why or how. I dove deep into the research and discovered the endocannabinoid system (ECS).2
The ECS is a network of neurotransmitters and receptors that work round-the-clock to help keep the body in homeostasis. Found throughout the bodies of mammals and other vertebrates, the ECS responds to the presence or deficiency of cannabinoids, which can be endogenous (produced within the organism) or exogenous (produced externally).
Endocannabinoids are produced internally and regulate the function of just about every physiological system within the body. Phytocannabinoids are endocannabinoids derived from plants, including but not limited to cannabis.
Naturally, I went to my physician and began asking about the ECS. To my surprise, she knew little about it. I shared some links from the National Institutes of Health (NIH)3 and other research bodies4 about current clinical trials and research.
My biggest recommendation: When you explore cannabis, be safe. The cannabis industry is in its infancy; with recent reports of cannabis-induced health concerns, it’s imperative to purchase from a licensed, regulated producer. You should be able to view the lab test results of any product you buy, so you know exactly what you’re putting in your body. There are lots of options everywhere, including websites like Amazon, so be mindful! And if possible, test what you’re using.
Finally, make sure you’re aware of the laws and regulations in your area. This is essential as more and more states regulate.
I’m fortunate to live in a state with regulated cannabis, which means I have access to clean, tested cannabis products—a privilege I don’t take lightly. I have the opportunity to explore other cannabinoids, including THCA (tetrahydrocannabinolic acid) and THCV (tetrahydrocannabivari) in conjunction with terpenes, aromatic plant essences found abundantly in cannabis that can provide therapeutic relief and enhance the efficacy of other compounds when combined (the “entourage effect”).
For those who are new to cannabis or who live in unregulated areas, take this chance to educate yourself. Check out sites like Project CBD,5 GreenFlower Media,6
and Leafly,7 and dive into the data. Go to the NIH website8 and type “cannabis” along with your condition to review the research. The reality is that cannabis is personalized medicine, and the one-size approach won’t work for everyone.
After years of taking opioids, I’m finally free. Cannabis can improve the quality of your life, too. Understand and explore the possibilities of cannabinoid therapies. Together we can fight the stigma and perception surrounding cannabis, save countless lives from opioid-related overdoses and deaths, and heal the harm from the war on drugs by voting for sensible drug policy.
Felicia Carbajal is a values-based community organizer, social entrepreneur, change-maker and innovator in the cannabis industry. Based in Los Angeles, the cannabis capital of the nation, Felicia has over two decades of experience in California’s cannabis market. Felicia has worked with world-renowned cannabis medical professionals, has consulted numerous cannabis brands, and is a trusted resource for multiple patient and consumer communities. Currently Felicia is executive director of the Social Impact Center: firstname.lastname@example.org.