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RICE is out and MEAT is in

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Photo by Kindel Media

You’ve probably heard it recommended many times after an injury resulting in acute pain in a joint or muscle: RICE is the acronym for the plan of self-treatment and stands for rest, ice, compression, and elevation.

Still lingering in many of our minds, RICE is gradually being replaced with newer evidence-based strategies suggesting that MEAT may actually lead to more efficient healing, better pain reduction, and a quicker return to normal activity. Standing for movement, exercise, analgesics, and treatment, it’s easy to tell that MEAT dishes out a more active remedy for injury, and results are backing it up.

Maximizing healing potential

Short-term local inflammation is now known to be an important phase of the healing process.

The elements of MEAT deliver more healing blood flow to injured areas, which can be especially game-changing when the injured tissue is ligament, tendon, or cartilage, all of which are types of connective tissue not well supplied with blood due to their structure and function.

While the application of ice may suppress pain temporarily, it can actually retard the healing process to the extent that incompletely healed connective tissue can be more likely to cause chronic pain, making healing less likely or more complex to achieve.

In these times of well-supported concern for the negative effects of chronic inflammation, it’s important to make the distinction between that kind of inflammation and the kind that occurs for a short time after an acute injury. Long-term chronic inflammation is known to be damaging and associated with disease, but short-term local inflammation is now known to be an important phase of the healing process.

Blood rushes to the area to deliver healing nutrients and carry away waste. Swelling protects an area and immobilizes it more efficiently than compression which limits the flow of healing chemicals to the affected area. Elevation may also slow down the circulatory system’s ability to deliver blood’s healing properties to the injury. So, while RICE can provide welcome relief immediately after an injury, replacing it with MEAT as soon as the pain threshold allows is yielding better, faster results.

Let’s break down the elements of MEAT

Exercise further improves blood flow and waste removal by increasing circulation to the area.

Movement, as soon as is tolerable, increases the flushing of blood and lymph in an area, clearing out waste and delivering fresh nutrients to the site. Compression and immobilization can lead to new fibers of connective tissue being laid down in a random, less functional pattern. Gentle movement ensures that new tissue is laid down in an organized fashion, making it stronger and more efficient. Movement can also reduce the amount of scar tissue left behind after healing. Scar tissue can be an impediment to natural flowing movement once healing has occurred.

Exercise further improves blood flow and waste removal by increasing circulation to the area. As the initial stages of helpful inflammation as well as pain subside, adding prescribed movement is therapeutic and it may be helpful to get the advice of a qualified Physical Therapist for some exercises specific to your injury. Even without PT, you can begin to add gentle exercises that gradually increase your range of motion and strength in natural ways to the affected area.

Analgesics in the MEAT program replace non-steroidal anti-inflammatories such as ibuprofen, aspirin, and naproxen, instead favoring acetaminophen and nutritional supplements like capsaicin, ginger, turmeric, Boswellia, and others. These alternative pain relievers do not reduce beneficial inflammation.

Treatment options are many and varied and depend on the location and severity of the injury as well as which specific tissues are involved. Acupuncture, joint mobilization, alternation of heat and cold, soft tissue release, cold laser, and TENS (transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation) are just some of the modalities that may be applied. Some of these therapies can be done at home, while others will require a trip to a professional. If in doubt, see your primary care provider for the proper referral. If you’ve been applying M, E & A on your own, but haven’t completely healed after 4-6 weeks, consider getting a referral to Physical Therapy or ask your primary care provider to make some suggestions.

RICE can still be of some benefit in the very early stages of more severe injury. Pain as well as the psychological effects of an accident or physical trauma might need a day or two to settle before MEAT can take over. But more and more research is showing that a return to normal activity is faster with MEAT.

Not a recommendation for the paleo diet, try replacing RICE with MEAT the next time you experience a strain or sprain and let your body find a more active way back to health.

Ann Constantino, submitted on behalf of the SoHum Health’s Outreach department.

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