Recently, I have heard a lot of debate about the application of ice for injuries. Some people demonize ice, while some people claim it is their saving grace. Let’s explore what happens during injury and how ice can affect it.
When we experience any sort of physical trauma, a variety of markers are released into the blood stream and initiate an inflammatory response (swelling, pain, redness, hot to the touch). There is a variety of cells that are sent to the site of injury that help heal and repair the damaged tissues. While inflammation gets a negative reputation, it is the body’s natural healing mechanism.
Now let’s bring ice into the equation. Ice constricts the blood vessels around the area of injury and impedes the inflammation cascade. This results in decreased pain and decreased swelling. Awesome, right? What is so bad with that? Well the catch here is that prolonged icing over an injured area has shown to delay the healing process. When we slow the inflammation process, we are also slowing the number of cells responsible for cleaning up damaged tissue and repairing the damaged area.
Now with this broken down, should we use ice? As with everything in life, moderation is key. If you just sprained your ankle and it is causing severe pain, go ahead and put ice on it. However, I would not advise you to ice it every single day for the next week. If the pain is mild, let the inflammation process do its job and heal the area.