How to Ice a Sprain, Strain or other Acute Injury

Whether you are a weekend warrior or serious athlete sprains and strains can and probably will happen to all of us at some stage. From a mildly sprained ankle to a severely strained (torn) calf; such an injury can keep you from participating in the activity you love. Whilst the severity or location of the sprain or strain may vary your response to it shouldn’t. Appropriate and timely action for a sprain or strain will get you back into sport more quickly and safely than  doing nothing at all.

Correct first aid for a sprain, strain or any other acute injury is essential if you want to achieve the fastest possible recovery. The most accepted approach today is R.I.C.E.R

  • Rest
  • Ice
  • Compression
  • Elevation
  • Referral


To some this might sound blindingly obvious but resting the injured area will help to prevent further damage and allow time for the injury to be assessed. Continued activity on an injured area may increase circulation to the area and therefore encourage further bleeding, swelling, damage and pain.


Best applied for the first 48hrs post injury for 20min every 3-4 hrs. Icing every 3-4 hrs is a rough guide because you should actually allow the area. The application of ice is thought to help reduce the amount of bleeding and swelling in the injured area. There are several ways to apply ice but it is best not to apply the ice directly onto bare skin. You can use a purpose made icepack but other suitable ways to apply ice include ice wrapped in a towel, a bag of frozen vegetables wrapped in a cloth or immersion in an ice bath. Whichever method you use don’t ice the area for more than 20minutes at a time as this may cause further damage to the local tissue.


Compression serves two main purposes. Applying a compression bandage will decrease the amount of swelling and bleeding than the use of ice alone. It also provides support and some protection for the injury. Using an elasticated bandage wrap the area overlapping the bandage by one half of its width as you go. Be careful not to apply the bandage too tightly as this will cut off too much circulation. If the area becomes cold to touch, starts to go blue or goes to sleep take the bandage off an reapply a little more loosely.


Wherever possible raise the injured area above the level of the heart. Elevating the area is thought to assist in reducing the swelling in the local area. It may also assist in reducing pain.


Referral means that you should seek advice from a registered health professional as soon as is practical. Early diagnosis and treatment will get you back to your favourite as quick as possible. Using Acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine we are able to start support of the sprain/strain immediately

About Ian Murray

Ian is a registered acupuncturist and Chinese Herbal Medicine practitioner at Kenmore Centre for Health. This website contains general information about medical conditions and treatments. The information is not advice, and should not be treated as such.
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