There are myriad ways to treat sports or an overuse injury. RICE is the most common protocol that many athletes opt for. In spite of RICE being the most popular treatment; it has an alternative known as MEAT treatment.
Let us understand RICE and MEAT approaches and determine how to choose between the two:
RICE: Rice stands for rest, ice, compression and elevation.
- Rest: Refrain from moving it, especially in the first few hours to help it heal.
- Ice: Icing the injured muscle reduces blood flow which prevents swelling and relieves pain.
- Compress: Wrap an elastic bandage around the injury. This prevents fluid build-up which in turn minimizes swelling. Compression also helps to partially immobilize the injured area and ease the pain to an extent
- Elevate: Elevation is another way to drain out fluid from the injured area and minimize swelling.
MEAT: Meat stands for movement, exercise, analgesics and treatment.
- Movement: careful and controlled movement increases blood flow to the affected area and helps in the healing process by providing essential nutrients.
- Exercise: Prescribed exercise enhances recovery. It also strengthens the muscles and ligaments which prevents the injury to recur.
- Analgesics: Natural analgesics help control acute pain and help assists in the recovery process.
- Treatment: Includes physiotherapy and other similar treatments that stimulate the blood flow and help in faster recovery.
There are two most common types of sports injuries:
The first type being the muscle strain and the second one being a ligament or a tendon strain/sprain.
Having stated this, it is extremely beneficial to understand the difference between a muscle tissue and a ligament to effectively determine the treatment protocol. Muscle tissues are vascular in nature hence have a vast supply of blood and nutrients.
Ligaments and tendons, on the contrary, are mostly avascular in nature. This means that they have a reduced or very limited supply of blood and essential nutrients.
When it comes to acute muscle injuries, RICE is the way to go but, if an athlete has sustained a ligament/tendon injury, the MEAT approach is the most effective approach.
RICE for acute muscle injuries:
Muscles have a rich supply of blood. Icing minimises swelling by reducing blood supply and inhibiting fluid build up.
Fluid buildup can put pressure on the muscle known as the compartment syndrome leading to permanent damage to the muscle. Therefore, icing along with the other components of this protocol is beneficial for acute muscle injuries in most cases.
MEAT for acute ligament/tendon injuries:
Due to the poor blood supply to the ligament, these injuries are likely to develop into a chronic sports injury and pain.
A substantially reduced blood supply leads to incomplete healing and this is the reason why icing may not be ideal. Ligament injuries need the blood supply to heal completely and MEAT does exactly that.
Every injury is unique and there is no one way to go about its treatment. Both these methods have their pros and cons and should not be followed blindly.
Utilizing components from both can be the smart thing to do when it comes to treatment.