How to Use the PRICE Protocol for the Care of Sports Injuries

Both adults and children are susceptible to sports injuries, from mild sprains and strains to serious fractures and ligament tears. Kids and adolescents are particularly vulnerable. According to a recent study, 40% of young athletes suffered injuries in 2019.

Quick action is important, but when an injury occurs, do you know what to do? Sports injury rehabilitation specialists recommend the PRICE method while waiting to get a professional evaluation. This easy-to-remember technique protects the injured tissue and helps reduce swelling and pain.

What is the PRICE Protocol?

The PRICE method of injury management is a first-aid technique for the immediate and ongoing care of minor injuries. PRICE is an acronym that makes it easy to understand what to do for certain types of injuries.

Of course, any injury should be seen by a medical professional, but some minor injuries benefit from homecare using this protocol. Most people can recover from a mild ankle sprain, for example, by using the method immediately and as the injury heals.

What Types of Injuries Benefit from the PRICE Method?

The PRICE steps are most often used for acute sports injuries. These are injuries with a sudden onset during activity, whether you’re playing a sport or not. For instance, you might twist your ankle on a hike, or your child could be hit in the knee by another player during a soccer match. Examples of acute injuries that benefit from immediate PRICE care include:

  • Sprains (ligament injury)
  • Strains (muscle or tendon injury)
  • Contusions
  • Dislocations
  • Fractures

Following the PRICE protocol for a few days after an injury can speed the healing process and help an athlete get back to the game sooner.

P – Protection

The first step in immediate first-aid for a sports injury is to protect the area from further injury. This means immediately stopping the activity to avoid causing worse damage. It might also include supportive protection, depending on the injury. Examples include a brace, splint, bandage, or sling.

R – Rest

Rest is essential for any injury because it allows the body to heal. Any significant movement can impede the process or—even worse—re-injure an area. Part of rest means avoiding or limiting putting weight on an injury. You might need crutches or similar aid to ensure the injured area gets full rest.

Rest is important both in the short term and throughout the healing process. If your child sprains their ankle during a game, they need to sit out and rest it for the duration. Depending on the severity of the injury, they might need to continue to rest it for days or weeks.

I – Ice

Icing, also known as cryotherapy, uses cold temperatures to manage pain and reduce swelling. Never apply ice directly to the skin. Use a towel or pillow case to provide a barrier between ice and skin.

Ice that will conform to the injured area is best, but use what you have on hand. A bag of crushed ice or frozen peas work well. Use ice for about ten-twenty minutes at a time, remove the ice for 20-30 minutes and repeat the application later.

C – Compression

Compression is another strategy for reducing swelling in an injury. Use a bandage to firmly wrap the injury. This acts as a mechanical barrier against swelling. The wrapping should apply compression but not be so tight that it cuts off the flow of blood. An elastic bandage designed for first-aid is ideal, but again, use what you have available: PT tape, a scarf, a shirt, or any type of bandage will work.

E – Elevation

Once you have completed the above steps, situate the person so that the injured area is elevated above their heart. This limits fluid accumulation to the injured site and minimizes swelling. If raising it above the heart isn’t possible or easy, get it up as high as possible. Icing in coordination with elevation is ideal.

When to Use the PRICE Method of Injury Care

You can use the PRICE method for most acute injuries, often those caused by sports. In the case of a serious injury, call for emergency medical help right away. Signs someone needs emergency attention include deformity in the joint or tissue, severe pain and swelling, and a protruding bone or otherwise obvious fracture.

PRICE is also appropriate for pediatric use. Children are particularly vulnerable to acute injuries because they are active and often play a lot of sports. If your child gets a sprain, strain, or another minor injury while playing, you can apply the PRICE method until you can get them to a doctor.

When to See an EmergeOrtho Sports Medicine Specialist

It’s important to see an orthopedic and sports medicine physician after any injury, even if you think it’s mild. Use the PRICE method of injury care until you can get a full evaluation, but don’t assume it will be adequate for full healing.

A specialist can ensure you’re doing everything necessary to heal the injury. They will evaluate it and determine if you need more than just rest. They can provide medications, injections, physical therapy, and if necessary, surgery.

Request an appointment online to see one of our sports medicine specialists, or call us any time at 984.279.3662.

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