Written by Divinity Nutra, Updated on March 19, 2023

How to Reduce Swelling

Injuries can happen at any time. When they occur, they can be painful and uncomfortable. Swelling is one of the body’s natural responses to an injury, and while it is part of the healing process, it can also cause discomfort and limit mobility. But, how do you reduce swelling?

In this article, we will discuss how to reduce swelling fast after an injury so you can start feeling better and get back to your daily activities. Whether it’s a foot, ankle, knee, or leg injury, the strategies below can help.

What Is Swelling?

Swelling, also known as edema, refers to an increase in the size or volume of tissues in the body due to an accumulation of fluid. It is a natural response of the body to injury, inflammation, or infection and can occur in any part of the body.

Swelling is often accompanied by pain, tenderness, redness, and warmth in the affected area, which are the classic signs of inflammation. While it is a normal response, excessive or prolonged swelling can be uncomfortable and may cause complications in some cases. Therefore, it’s essential to understand how to manage swelling effectively.

What Causes Swelling?

The accumulation of fluid in the tissues of the body can be due to several reasons, such as an injury or trauma, infection, inflammation, or underlying medical conditions such as heart or kidney disease.

When there is damage to the tissues, such as a sprained ankle, the body’s immune system responds by releasing chemicals that cause the blood vessels in the affected area to widen, allowing more fluid and white blood cells to enter the tissue.

This results in inflammation and swelling, which is the body’s way of trying to heal itself. Infections and diseases can also cause inflammation and swelling as the body tries to fight off the invading organisms or repair damaged tissues.

R.I.C.E. Method for Reducing Swelling

The R.I.C.E. method is an acronym for Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation, which are all strategies that can help reduce swelling after an injury. This is the most tried and true method to make the swelling go down in the affected area. We’ll explain each step in detail below, and provide some additional strategies you can use to reduce swelling quickly.

1. Rest

The “R” in the R.I.C.E. method stands for “rest,” and is crucial for reducing swelling because it allows the body to focus on repairing the injured area. When a body part is injured, the immune system sends white blood cells to the area to help with healing, but this process requires energy. Resting the injured area helps conserve energy so the body can more efficiently heal the damaged tissues and reduce swelling.

To rest an injured area, it’s important to avoid excessively using or bearing weight on the affected body part as much as possible. This can mean taking a break from activities that require repetitive motions or putting pressure on the affected area.

Depending on the extent of the injury, a healthcare professional may recommend immobilizing the affected body part with a brace or splint to ensure proper rest. However, it’s important to continue with light activities that don’t aggravate the injury to help prevent stiffness and maintain mobility.

2. Ice

The “I” in the R.I.C.E. method stands for “ice,” which is an effective way to reduce swelling after an injury. Ice works by constricting the blood vessels in the injured area, which helps to reduce the amount of blood that flows to the area, thus reducing swelling. Ice also numbs the area, which can help to reduce pain.

To use ice for swelling, you should first wrap the ice or ice pack in a towel or cloth to protect your skin from direct contact with the ice, which can cause an ice burn. Then, apply the ice to the injured area for 15-20 minutes at a time, every 2-3 hours during the first 2-3 days after the injury.

It’s important not to apply the ice for too long or too frequently, as this can damage the skin and tissues in the injured area. It’s also important to avoid falling asleep with the ice on, as this can cause frostbite. Overall, ice is a safe and effective way to reduce swelling after an injury, as long as it’s used properly.

3. Compression

The “C” in the R.I.C.E. method stands for “compression,” which is the application of pressure to the injured area to help decrease swelling. Compression works by limiting the amount of fluid that can accumulate in the injured tissues, thereby reducing inflammation and pain.

To apply compression, use an elastic bandage around the injured area, being careful not to wrap it too tightly. The compression bandage should be snug enough to provide support and reduce swelling, but not so tight that it causes numbness, tingling, or additional pain. Be sure to regularly check the bandage to make sure it’s not too tight and to adjust it as needed. Leave the compression bandage on for several hours, or until the swelling begins to subside.

It’s worth noting that compression should not be used for every type of injury, as it may not always be effective or appropriate.

4. Elevation

The “E” in the R.I.C.E. method stands for “elevation,” which is an important component of reducing swelling. Elevating the affected area helps to increase blood flow away from the injury site, which can help to reduce swelling and pain.

To elevate properly, the injured area should be raised above the level of the heart. For example, if you have a sprained ankle, you can lie down and prop your foot up on a pillow. If you have an injured arm, you can elevate it on a stack of pillows. It’s important to keep the injured area elevated for as long as possible throughout the day and to avoid activities that may cause the area to become swollen again.

5. Medication

Although not part of the R.I.C.E. method, this is an important consideration for pain relief. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are a common medication used to help reduce swelling and pain after an injury.

These drugs work by inhibiting the production of prostaglandins, which are molecules that cause inflammation, pain, and fever. By blocking the production of prostaglandins, NSAIDs can help reduce inflammation and pain, making them an effective complementary treatment for injuries.

There are several types of NSAIDs available, including aspirin, ibuprofen, and naproxen. These drugs are available over-the-counter or as prescription medications, and they can be taken orally or applied topically to the affected area. It is important to use NSAIDs safely, as they can have side effects such as stomach upset, heartburn, and in rare cases, kidney or liver problems.

When taking anti-inflammatory drugs, always follow the recommended dosage instructions and do not exceed the maximum recommended dose. You should take NSAIDs with food or milk to reduce the risk of stomach upset or ulcers. If you experience any side effects, are taking other medications, or have concerns about taking NSAIDs, be sure to speak with a healthcare provider.

Reducing Swelling from Specific Injuries

Each type of injury has a slightly different application for the R.I.C.E. method for reducing swelling. We’ve broken down those nuances in detail below.

Foot Injuries

When it comes to foot injuries, managing swelling is crucial to promoting healing and reducing pain. During prolonged periods of standing or walking, it’s essential to take regular breaks to elevate, ice, and compress the foot throughout the day to keep swelling at bay.

In addition to these measures, it’s vital to wear comfortable, supportive footwear and avoid high heels or shoes with pointed toes that can exacerbate foot injuries and lead to further swelling and discomfort.

Ankle Injuries

Ankle injuries, such as sprains and strains, are a prevalent type of injury that can cause pain, swelling, and limited mobility. Like foot injuries, managing swelling is essential to promoting healing and reducing discomfort.

Additional measures, such as the use of an ankle brace, can provide static compression and support to the ankle joint. By stabilizing the ankle and limiting excessive movement, an ankle brace can help to prevent further injury and promote healing.

Knee Injuries

Knee injuries can be painful and debilitating, and swelling is a common symptom that can significantly impact an individual’s range of motion and ability to walk comfortably.

Wearing an elastic bandage or brace can also help provide support to the knee joint and limit the buildup of excess fluid. If mobility is a concern, using a crutch, cane, or another assistive device can help to reduce pressure on the leg and promote a faster, more comfortable recovery.

Leg Injuries

When it comes to injuries in the upper legs, such as those affecting the groin, quadriceps, or hamstrings, managing swelling and pain can be particularly challenging. Due to the larger surface area of the upper legs, traditional cold therapy methods, such as applying small ice packs, may not be as effective in reducing swelling and inflammation.

Body-conforming wraps used in cold therapy systems can be a beneficial alternative, as they provide a larger coverage area and conform to the contours of the body, allowing for more effective and targeted treatment of the affected tissues.

In addition to cold therapy, applying compression to the upper leg can also be an effective way to reduce swelling and promote healing. Active compression wraps use specialized technology to provide targeted, dynamic compression to the affected tissues. By promoting circulation and reducing fluid buildup, active compression wraps can help to speed up the healing process and improve overall comfort and mobility.

The Controversy With the R.I.C.E. Method

The R.I.C.E. protocol (Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation) has long been the go-to method for treating acute injuries, but evidence suggests that it may not be the most effective way to address all injuries. The M.E.A.T. protocol (Movement, Exercise, Analgesics, Treatment) is proving to be a better option for different types of injuries.

While R.I.C.E. focuses on reducing swelling, M.E.A.T. emphasizes maintaining your strength in the joints as well as your range of motion. The M.E.A.T. protocol highlights the importance of early movement in injury recovery. According to this approach, gentle movement can stimulate blood flow, flush out waste materials, and bring in new oxygen and nutrients to support healing. By incorporating movement into the recovery process, individuals can promote healing and improve mobility, all while staying within their pain tolerance limits.

The final step of M.E.A.T. is treatment, where patients should work with a professional like a physical therapist for a long-term plan that could range from ultrasound to therapeutic exercise. Studies show that gentle movement and exercise, which are core components of the M.E.A.T. protocol, help expedite recovery, improve range of motion, and prevent instability in the joint post-injury.

While we still need more side-by-side evidence to confirm that M.E.A.T. is always a better method than R.I.C.E., there is enough evidence to show that movement, exercise, and treatment can lead to a speedy recovery and natural pain relief.

The reality though, is that for most people, the best treatment possible is likely going to be a combination of both methods. For example, using the R.I.C.E. protocol as a means to temporarily reduce pain, followed by using the M.E.A.T. protocol as a way to restore strength and mobility and promote healing once the pain has subsided.

Other Ways to Reduce Swelling

There are several other natural remedies for inflammation and swelling outside of the R.I.C.E. method. Some of the best strategies to reduce inflammation in the body are:

  • Eat less inflammatory foods: Inflammatory foods include processed foods, sugar, fried foods, red meat, and alcohol. By reducing the consumption of these foods, you can decrease inflammation and swelling in the body.
  • Switch to an anti-inflammatory diet: An anti-inflammatory diet includes foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein. These foods contain anti-inflammatory properties and can help make the swelling go down.
  • Make lifestyle modifications: Lifestyle modifications such as getting regular exercise, reducing stress, and getting enough sleep can help to reduce inflammation in the body.
  • Take dietary supplements: Some anti-inflammatory herbs and spices can help to reduce swelling in the body. Supplements like black pepper, curcumin, and ginger have been shown to have anti-inflammatory effects.

Deciding which anti-inflammatory supplements work can be a challenge, so we’ve provided three of the most well-researched ones below.

Turmeric contains a potent anti-inflammatory compound called curcumin that has been shown to reduce inflammation in the body. Curcumin has antioxidant properties that can help protect the body against oxidative stress and damage.

Apple cider vinegar (ACV) contains acetic acid, which has been shown to reduce inflammation and improve overall immune function. Additionally, it may also help regulate blood sugar levels, which can contribute to inflammation in the body when they are too high.

Elderberry contains compounds that have anti-inflammatory properties, including anthocyanins, flavonoids, and phenolic acids. These compounds work together to reduce inflammation in the body.

How to Reduce Swelling Fast: Final Thoughts

Reducing swelling after an injury is crucial to promote healing and eliminate discomfort. While the above methods can help reduce swelling and inflammation, it’s essential to remember that severe swelling may require medical attention.

If you experience severe pain, swelling, or other concerning symptoms, seek medical help immediately. By taking the necessary steps to reduce swelling fast, you can speed up your recovery and get back to your regular activities sooner.