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Ice Ice Baby: The Cold Truth About Icing

July 18, 2019

 

Icing an injury, we've all done it.  There are many opinions around icing muscles and injuries for recovery.  Icing to aid in the recovery of an injury is one thing, but using ice as the primary treatment for overuse injuries is another issue.  Can ice heal injuries?

 

We see professional athletes icing all the time.  We've been told by doctors to ice forever!  Ice baths, cryotherapy, cold compresses, bags of ice taped around body parts.  So what is inflammation and how does Ice work for our bodies?  Does it really help with swelling? Please note, there is no real scientific evidence to ice working or not working, but this is another way of looking at the 'freezing' situation. 

 

Inflammation 101

Our bodies need inflammation to heal.  It's our natural response to muscular damage.  white blood cells will rush to the site of an injury to clean any debris and to deliver nutrients to that area.  Damaged blood vessels constrict and quarantine the injury, while the rest of the surrounding vessels expand to let nutrients-rich fluid in.  In return, causing swelling or inflammation.  

 

As we all know, the swelling will reduce naturally over time (this is our lymphatic system).  Our lymphatic system is really passive, it doesn't work automatically.  It will remove waste when muscles contract. So where does ice fit into all of this? 

 

How Does Ice Work?

When you put a cold compress/ice pack or take an ice bath or to cryotherapy it causes your blood vessels to constrict.  When the area becomes warm again the blood will rush to flush out the metabolic buildup more quickly than if it were pumped out normally.  Basically, this just speeds up the process of blood flow and it can cause a decrease in swelling and soreness after the ice is applied.

 

When lifting weights, we create tiny tears in the muscles (microtrauma).  Icing or any kind of cold therapy will stimulate muscle cell activity.  Icing after a heavy lift will allow for blood flow through the tiny tears, this can aid in the reduction of swelling and dulling of pain.  Icing has been known to delay muscle pain and soreness, but that's about it.  Just remember, ice can make you feel better by numbing or dulling the pain but it doesn't actually heal your tissues.  It may mask your injury and you may feel like it is healed so beware! 

 

How Does Ice Help With Inflammation?

Applying ice to inflammation or swelling actually slows down the healing process.  As mentioned above, ice will cause your blood vessels to constrict which does not help your lymphatic system flush out the area.  Ice hits the pause button on the healing process, which might delay muscle recovery (according to the journal of strength and condition research, 2013).

 

How To Recover Faster

Our lymphatic system relies on muscle activation to remove waste, which means...light exercise and pain-free movement actually STARTS the healing process!!

 

The Cold Hard Truth...

Ice is effective for reducing muscle soreness and pain but it won't heal or speed up the healing process.  If you are looking for a medicine free painkiller, ice is the way to go.  if you want to get back to the gym and training sooner, active recovery will be your best bet.  Get that blood flowing and those muscles contracting!

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