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Management of injury using RICE, Should we Compress?

7th March, 2012

Compression is a part of the RICE principles for managing an acute tissue injury, but does current thinking support it's use?

Compression of the injured area may be achieved by using a tubigrip or a compression bandage (best applied by a healthcare professional). Alternatively there are many elastic, neoprene and adjustable supports that can be brought from local Pharmacies. These tend to be harder wearing if you are going to continue to wear the support for more than a week.

BUT the use of compression for swelling management is poorly supported by current research.

Traditionally it was thought compression would help to lessen inflammation (swelling) but this has not been proven in research.

Currently, it appears compression may improve the awareness and sense (proprioception) of your injured area. In some cases the injured area feels more supported and comfortable with compression. If this is the case for you, you may want to use the support in the first week or two of the injury. The sooner you can trust your injured area to support itself without swelling further, the better.

Physiotherapists will often stress the importance of moving normally. For some injuries, this means offloading the area with a crutch or compressing the area with a support bandage to improve your movement in the early days. In other words, if you are limping or moving awkwardly, you may benefit from greater support.

Some injuries like compression, some don't. Discuss this with a Physiotherapist, or gently experiment through trial and error to determine what your injury prefers.

Disclaimer: Compression when applied should not cause pins & needles or numb patches and the skin colour above and below the support should also be normal. Consult a medical professional if you are concerned.

Check tomorrow's Guildford blog to learn whether or not to Elevate your limb when injured.

Jo Lamplough, Senior Physiotherpist, MSc, BSc (HONS), MACP, MCSP.