To Ice Or Not To Ice An Injury

For many years, icing has been the go-to first aid medication for sports injuries before being adopted for regular injuries. The use of ice as a treatment for an injury can be traced back to the 1970s when Dr. Gabe Mirkin recommended the RICE procedure as a way of dealing with injuries. RICE stands for Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation. This was a procedure that was in use for many years without question. However, studies in recent years have suggested that there might be a problem with icing an injury. The validity of the RICE procedure has therefore come under increased scrutiny. This article will address the question of whether injuries should be iced or not.

The Healing Process of The Body

Recent studies in the post-injury management sector have shown that icing an injury may be counterproductive. In order to fully understand this, it is important to break down the RICE procedure.  RICE which stands for Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation usually follow this form:

• Rest from all physical activity

• Ice which is applied for about 15 to 20 minutes.

• Compression of the ice on the injury.

• Elevation of the injured part of the body over the heart.

• The RICE procedure is then followed by anti-inflammatory and pain relief medication.

Asides from the fact that icing an injury is already seen as a normal step to follow, there are three major reasons why we ice injuries.

• To reduce inflammation.

• To reduce the swelling.

• To relieve the pain.

Recent research has shown that applying ice to injury may slow down the healing process instead of helping it. To understand this, let us take a look at the natural healing process of the body in stages.

  • Inflammation: This is the first stage of every injury which is triggered by our immune system. In the stage, vessel constriction and blood clots form in order to stop the flow of blood from the damaged tissue. This is accompanied by the dilation of vessels surrounding the damaged tissue. The purpose of this dilation is to allow the repair cells to work on that part. 

This entire process results in swelling which while uncomfortable is not entirely bad. Swelling is simply a build-up of waste around the damaged tissue, which is yet to find its way out of the body. Swelling also effectively immobilizes the injured area, in order to reduce muscle activity and speed up healing.

Pain is another thing that occurs as a result of inflammation. While pain can be really uncomfortable, it helps in the healing process. With the local nerve endings sensitized, pain limits what we can do with the injured area. This ultimately gives the injured part the needed time to recuperate swiftly.

  • Tissue Repair and Remodeling: After the inflammation stage, the stage that follows is the tissue repair and remodeling. In this stage, the damaged tissue undergoes process of wound closure, new blood vessel growth as well as scarring. With the repair process underway and new tissue forming, the new growth remodels itself to work seamlessly with other parts of the body.

There are certain factors that affect the healing process and might slow it down. These factors include

– Age

– Nutrition

– Infection

– Stress

– Lack of sleep

– Chronic diseases, as well as,

– The use of anti-inflammatory drugs.

In these factors lies the answer to the question of if icing injuries is right or not. From the breakdown of the healing process, it is clear to see that inflammation, swelling, and pain are needed in order for injuries to heal. As ice prevents these processes from taking place, it might be said that icing an injury is largely counter-productive. Essentially, ice slows down the healing process. Below are ways in which the presence of ice delays the healing process of injuries.

  • Inflammation: Ice restricts the flow of blood and this affects the inflammatory process. Formation of blood clots, vessel constriction and dilation of surrounding vessels are among the processes that are interrupted. Ice also prevents swelling which is necessary for the removal of waste around the damaged tissue.
  • Pain: While ice reduces the pain and discomfort that you have to deal with, it is not always the best option. Pain dictates the actions that you can take in the case of an injury. This way your wound gets ample time to heal. However when ice takes the pain away, you can likely to carry out actions that can worsen the damaged tissue, thereby causing a bigger problem.

Due to the reasons stated above, it is best to get actual treatment in the case of an injury instead of using ice. For this purpose, you should contact physio Hamilton to get the best treatment for your wounds.

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