For decades, we’ve been taught that applying ice (cryotherapy), was one of the most important things to do immediately following a soft tissue injury (a sprain or strain). However, over the past 2 years, there has been a complete 180 degree turn in this thinking. Not next to no research to support the benefits of using ice, we now recognize that its use may actually delay healing.
A 2004 review in the Journal of Athletic Training concluded that while ice is effective in decreasing pain, the other supposed benefits of using ice could not be validated. In fact, the only research that actually supports the use of ice refers to impacts on the perception of pain – not surprising since ice does numb whatever area you apply it to. However, even this research recommends that the duration be strictly limited since markers of tissue damage increase after 10 minutes. Of course, this leads to questions about what’s actually happening during those 10 minutes.
Aside from helping with pain, the primary rationale for icing an injury was the belief that you needed to minimize inflammation. Using ice decreases blood flow to the injured area and was therefore recommended. However, as we discussed in last month’s newsletter, inflammation is actually part of the natural healing process. It’s a protective reaction initiated by our immune system and it’s self-limiting, which means it turns itself off when its job is done. So, by interrupting that process, all we’re doing is delaying healing.
So if we shouldn’t be using ice to help with soft tissue injuries, what should be we doing? Ideally, we want to compress the injured area using an elastic bandage to reduce swelling. It should fit snug so as to restrict movement while allowing for expansion as muscles contract and fill with blood. Then, we want to begin “pain free” movement as soon as it can be tolerated. This will allow the body to use muscle contraction to pump the swelling through the lymphatic system and begin to return normal function to the injured area.
If you’ve experienced a recent injury and want to optimize your recovery, give us a call or just drop by the clinic. Remember, at Physiomed, Healthier Starts Here!