What Is The POLICE Principle?

Posted: 6/2/2019

    The POLICE (Protection Optimal Loading Ice Compression Elevation) Principle is a recent alternative to the RICE Method. It is a self-help method that is often recommended to deal with acute injuries like ligament sprains or muscle strains.

    What Is The POLICE Principle?

    POLICE stands for:


    During the first few days after an injury, you should certainly rest the injured body part. However, after a few days, gentle motion can be helpful provided a degree of protection for the injured area is maintained.

    During this time you may need to use some sort of assistance, like crutches to walk or a sling to protect an injured shoulder.

    Optimum Loading:

    While you are protecting your injured body part, gentle motion can be helpful to assist healing.

    For example, after a knee injury or surgery, you should be able to progress from a few days of rest to passive movement onto active movement and finally strengthening and proprioceptive exercises.

    This progressive loading of your injury can help promote optimal healing of the injured site. It can also avoid delays in return to activity due to muscle atrophy or tightness.


    Applying ice to the affected area can reduce pain and swelling. Apply an ice pack (covered with a light, absorbent towel to help prevent ice burn) for 10 to 20 minutes. Repeat this as often as possible for the first 24 to 48 hours after your injury.


    Compressing the injured area by applying an elastic medical bandage or compression clothing can prevent swelling. This should be snug but not too tight. If the wrapping is too tight this can affect blood flow and negatively influence the healing process. If the skin adjacent to the wrap turns blue or feels cold, numb, or tingly, this is a sign that the wrapping is too tight and you should loosen the bandage. If these symptoms don’t disappear immediately you should seek medical assistance.


    This means raising the injured body part above the level of your heart. For example, if you have an ankle sprain, you can prop your leg up on pillows while sitting on the sofa. It is recommended that you keep the injured area raised whenever possible.

    How Physical Therapy Can Help

    The POLICE principle is a simple method to try after acute injury, but a visit to your physical therapist may be necessary. Your Physical Therapist can instruct you on the best modality of protection and best level of loading as you heal. Rehabilitation exercises may be required and a therapist can fully explain to you which exercises to do and how to do them correctly. At Physio4Me our Practice Management software incorporates a rehabilitation database with 100’s of research based exercises protocols. Each protocol includes detailed images and descriptions to ensure you complete each exercise correctly.

    Finally, your physical therapist can tell you when it is time to stop protecting the injured body part and navigate your way back to normal activity levels.

    So, What’s Wrong with RICE?

    In a previous blog post we detailed the RICE Method. You will notice that POLICE incorporates certain elements of the RICE Method but the Rest component has become Protection and Optimal Loading. This important update has been recommended as a common theme with RICE is that many people take the “Rest” phase a little too seriously and do not start moving soon enough. A long period of immobilization can lead to decreased muscle strength and flexibility and may actually delay your return to normal functional mobility and activity.

    Our Top Tips

    If you have suffered an acute musculoskeletal injury like a sprain or muscle strain, a visit to your doctor or physical therapist is a good first step in your care. They will use their specilaised knowledge to rule out any complications and may then recommend self-care in the form of POLICE.

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