A comparison of physiotherapy and RICE self treatment advice for early management of ankle sprains
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Ankle sprains are one of the most common musculoskeletal injuries. Physiotherapy treatment and advice to rest, use ice, use compression, and elevate the ankle (RICE advice) is believed to speed up the functional recovery and enhance healing associated with acute ankle sprains. However, there is limited evidence to support the efficacy of RICE treatment. This study investigated whether physiotherapy (including RICE advice) was as effective as RICE advice alone in improving the time to recovery in a clinical situation.The evidence for RICE advice was reviewed along with the different treatment modalities currently used by physiotherapists in New Zealand for acute ankle sprain. This review highlighted the low number and poor quality of studies investigating RICE and early intervention physiotherapy management for ankle sprains. RICE principals appear to be relatively inexpensive and somewhat effective for pain relief and may reduce further tissue damage in the acute stage of Grade I and II ankle sprains. Evidence extrapolated from studies investigating the use of post surgical ice appears to support the use of ice in the acute stage of an ankle sprain to minimise bleeding and oedema. The intermittent application of ice is more effective for pain relief in the acute phase than sustained icing. Physiotherapy interventions such as TENS for pain relief and bracing for the support of Grade II - III ankle sprains have been shown to be beneficial for pain relief in the acute phase. A need for further high quality, randomised controlled trials (RCT's) was identified.Subsequently a RCT was conducted with 28 participants to investigate the difference between (a) early intervention physiotherapy management combined with RICE advice, and (b) self management RICE advice without physiotherapy.Twenty eight individuals (males n = 22, females n = 6), between the ages of 16 and 40 with acute ankle sprains, who met the inclusion criteria, were approached by physiotherapists working on this project and invited to participate. Dependant variables were pain, function, swelling, compliance and medication use up to Day 11 post injury. Swelling, pain and function were measured over three assessments on Days 1, 3 and 11, using volumetric analysis, a visual analogue scale (VAS) and a functional question derived from a validated functional questionnaire respectively. Medication use and compliance were elicited from information gathered in a participant home diary. Both groups were similar on Day 1 in respect to their initial pain, swelling, the number of participants who were referred for X-rays, and the time taken to present to the physiotherapist. However the RICE group had significantly higher function scores (p = 0.042). The RICE group also had a significantly higher use of medication on Day 1 (p = 0.035) and Day 11 (p = 0.048). For both groups there was a statistically significant decrease in swelling (p = 0.003), pain scores (p = 0.000), and an increase in function scores (p = 0.000) in relation to time over the eleven days of assessment. The physiotherapy group had significantly improved function scores (p = 0.042) from Day 1 to Day 11 compared to the RICE group. There were no significant differences between groups for swelling, pain scores, and their first day of documented non-compliance. The within day range of error in the volumetric measurements was within 189.9 ml and 1.2 ml. Three trials were conducted per person within a Day session. The first volumetric analysis was significantly less than the subsequent two measurements (p = 0.040).It was concluded that, in the early stage of an ankle injury both physiotherapy and RICE, and RICE advice alone, resulted in significant improvements in swelling, pain and function. Early intervention physiotherapy was significantly better at improving the functional ability of participants by Day 11. Early intervention physiotherapy may also identify complications associated with ankle sprains.Despite its limitations this research could potentially lead to changes in the standard treatment protocols for soft tissue ankle injuries. Implementation of self management RICE by patients in the acute stage would initially reduce the cost of physiotherapy treatments, and may lead to equal improvements in pain and swelling outcomes. However, it appears that physiotherapy may lead to better functional outcomes which would reduce the costs associated with time off work, and rehabilitation. It is important to note that these findings are based on a small sample size and on Grade I or II ankle ligament sprains, and that treatment for more severe ankle injuries may be better with physiotherapy, or surgery, rather than self management RICE by patients. Findings contribute to the growing body of 'best practice' evidence for health practitioners.Keywords: Acute soft tissue injuries, ankle, sprain, early intervention, physiotherapy, RICE, volumetric measurement.