To Ice or not to Ice?

Should you use ice at all?

For years, we have been taught to put ice on inflamed areas. I bought into that, however, I have had a rethink and believe that it is a mistake. One of the ironies regarding ice use is that we insist that people who have sprained something immediately ice the area. The body swells, we ice. We then dash the person off to casualty and there, the patient gets given an anti-inflammatory injection.  So up to now, we have done all that we know to reduce inflammation. After an x-ray, the doctor walks in and explains that the joint needs to be immobilized so that it can mend itself.  Guess what, before the ice and before the anti-inflammatory the body was trying to immobilize the area by allowing it to swell. It knew what to do from the get-go.

ice shoulder

Ice is good, for keeping food fresh and stopping dead bodies from decaying. I am not sure though that it is a good idea for human beings. In fact, putting ice on an injured area will constrict blood vessels, which then reduces circulation. Fluids now begin to congeal in the area, and the body in time will battle to disperse of these later. It is possible to still find swelling in an injured area a year later after excessive use of ice. Yet, we still use it on injury sites, and some even plunge into ice baths after a workout.

ice bath

Your body is primed to repair itself. It’s genius. You can buy a top level Rolex watch, but when it is scratched, it’s scratched. Your body, however, is primed to look after itself and repair when possible. I personally think that medicine will reinvent itself over the next few years. We have had a generation that has bought into the belief that there are drugs and an operation for everything. We have in so many ways been let down by this, and have all got a litany of horror stories from people who have bought into that. It’s time to study and make use of the ways that the body heals itself. The Chinese have looked into it for years, and I think that some of these ideas will become more mainstream.

Ice is just so 80’s.

In the book, “Iced”, by Dr. G Reinl, the following reviews are mentioned:

  • There is a grand total of ZERO peer-reviewed articles that have found that ice enhances the healing process. (BJSM, 2012).

  • Numerous studies have found that icing delays the healing process by interrupting the local neuromuscular connection, inhibiting the muscle pump and preventing the travel of lymphatic fluid back into circulation (JSCR, 2013)

  • Icing has been found to increase the BACKFLOW of lymphatic fluid, thus not only not helping, but slowing the healing process it is supposed to help. (AJSM, 1986)

  • Icing post-workout has been found to attenuate post-exercise strength gains and slow recovery (JSCR, 2013).

  • There is insufficient evidence to suggest that cryotherapy improves clinical outcome in the management of soft tissue injuries. JEM, 2008; Feb. 25; 65–68

What to do after a hard workout?

So, it is time to end the cold war. No more ice baths after a workout. Keep your body warm and help it by taking it through light movements.

What to do with a sprain.

After a sprain, the latest thinking is that you should lightly wrap the damaged area. It is always a good idea to get to casualty in order to get the injury site x-rayed.

What to do with sore, tired muscles.

  1. Keep them warm.
  2. Encourage fluid drainage via light movement.
  3. Get the area massaged.
  4. Drink lots of water.
  5. Have an ice bath, but only if you are a polar bear.
    ice polar bear


Mike Roscoe.
Mike Roscoe

About sbrsport

SBR Sport specialises in Swimming, Biking and Running. On the medical side we are able to do intensive bike setups, leg assessments and soft tissue release. - and/or facebook -
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