When it comes to knee or leg injures, a lot of us grew up with the good ol’ RICE system (Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation). Recently, however, there’s been a new addition to the injury triage party: Protection. Necessitating a new acronym, the new PRICE system emphasizes just how important the Protection element is to injury treatment. That is, whenever you sustain trauma to your knee (direct impact, hyperflexion, etc), it’s critical to limit your body’s (over)reaction to the injury. Here’s how each component helps speed up recovery:
The new guy in school, this cog is is all about external protection. That means knee braces, sleeves, bandages or anything else that’ll limit your knee’s activity and motion. This phase is most critical immediately and up to 3 days after the injury. Less movement equals less inflammation; that, in turns, promotes healing and a more efficient immune system to aid recovery. When proper protection is used, it limits the extent and length of injuries every time. With that kind of impact, it’s no wonder a grain morphed into an economic staple (get it? RICE –> PRICE :/).
After a (semi)serious injury, common sense tells you to lay off for a while. Get in bed for a day or two; if you HAVE to go out, use crutches or ask a friend to drive you around. If you don’t get enough rest, you risk delaying recovery or worse, sustaining a new injury. And don’t forget age plays a major role in healing. As the years go by, our immune system slows down — an injury that took a day to recovery from at 20 might take a few days at 40. So, don’t try to be a hero. Be patient, your body will thank you for it.
Once you do start to feel better, slowly start to test it. If it’s a sprained knee, start walking a bit more while holding onto a railing or other support. If the joint feels stable and response, gradually increase your motion and activity. The last you want to do is remain inactive – tissues and tendons will eventually atrophy, making it that much harder to fully recover.
Ah, frozen water. Sounds obvious, but lowering the internal temperature of an injured joint can be a major benefit. Physiologically, it slows down your body’s response to the injury — that means, less fluid (inflammation) makes it way into the joint, decreasing pain and allowing your body to more effectively deal with the trauma. Time-wise, I recommend applying ice for 10-20 minutes…then giving it a rest. After another hour or two, you can reapply. As with anything, don’t overdue it.
Another way to limit the inflammatory response, compressing the injury with a bandage (preferably elastic) restricts the amount of space the incoming fluid can occupy. The result is less swelling and faster healing. Just don’t over wrap (or tighten) the bandage. As long as you can slide at least one finger under the wrap, you should be fine. The day of the injury, I like to wrap ice around the injury with a bandage; if you do it well enough (and it holds), ice compression is a nice, time-saving combo.
The third key way to slow down inflammation, elevation is a simple, physical way to make it more difficult for your body to flood the area with synovial fluid. Simply lie down and prop your feet on a stack of pillows, etc. Gravity will force the fluid downward, to be reabsorbed into the lympatic vessels. From there, it heads back into your blood vessels and, most importantly, kept out of the injured area.
There you have it: P.R.I.C.E. It’s a family simple concept but very few folks actually implement even a few after a knee or joint injury. Try to put all five in place and, in my experience, you’ll be up and running (or close to it :) 30-50% sooner.