How many times have you seen someone with an ice pack after getting injured
It’s just what we do, right?
A common belief is that ice helps you recover from an acute injury by reducing inflammation. However, there are a few problems with this statement…
Inflammation is a normal response after an acute injury because it is the first stage of tissue healing. So, slowing down the inflammatory response would be delaying the normal tissue healing process.
There is some research that ice may reduce inflammation but interestingly, corticosteroids and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) have stronger and longer-lasting effects on inflammation. So, ice may slow down tissue healing but ‘mildly’ compared to other anti-inflammatory treatments.
Ice can provide an analgesic effect (pain relief) by slowing down the signals that your brain receives from the injured area. This can then allow the person to move with less pain, which can give the impression that ice ‘healed’ the injury when it was just movement and time (allowing your body to do its thing) that did the work.
Ice has been around for a long time, yet there is still no high-quality evidence that it is effective in treating injuries. Even Dr Gabe Mirkin, who coined the popular ‘RICE’ (rest, ice, compression, elevation) in 1978, backtracked and wrote in 2014 that ice ‘may delay healing, instead of helping’.
My key takeaways:
- Inflammation after an acute injury isn’t bad (we need it for tissue healing).
- Ice may slightly delay tissue healing.
- Ice can help if you want some temporary pain relief.
- Moving and loading the injured body part appropriately and as soon as practical are more important in speeding up recovery.