Ice Does More Harm Than Good For Injury Recovery
“Put ice on it!” is the standard recommendation for just about any injury. There’s only one problem: Icing an injury doesn’t work. In fact, it can even interfere with the healing process. It's time for everyone to catch up with the research and stop icing your injuries.
The theory for using ice is that it will decrease inflammation around an injury. However, inflammation is a critical part of the healing process. There is no peer-reviewed, indisputable published evidence that the use of ice improves the recovery process. In fact, icing an injured area delays the process. Think of it this way: you want fluid to reach an injury. That means the inflammatory response is doing its job.
Ice Increases Swelling
In contrast to inflammation, swelling can be regarded as the accumulation of waste at the completion of the inflammatory cycle. The swelling process is regulated by the lymphatic system, which relies on muscle activation to function properly. Ice limits muscle activation, interfering with the function of the lymphatic system. Essentially, the ‘cold’ causes the one-way valves in the lymphatic system to open in the wrong direction, which creates more swelling. The authors of one study explained that when ice is applied to a body part, it increases the amount of local swelling and pressure, potentially contributing to greater pain.
Ice Delays Muscle Recovery
As for reducing muscle soreness, ice doesn’t appear to accelerate the recovery process – a realization that will come as a surprise to thousands of athletes who have been forced to endure painful ice baths. According to a paper published in the May 2013 Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, the authors concluded that "cooling…appears to not improve but rather delay recovery from eccentric exercise-induced muscle damage.”
Improve Healing With Active Recovery & Nutrition
Instead of using ice post-workout, you can accelerate the healing process with active recovery. Low load exercises and cardio sufficiently activate the involved muscles for the desired period of time, but do not cause enough stress to lead to fatigue. Examples include stationary bikes, upper body ergometers, vibration plates, weighted medicine balls, and free weights.
Nutrition may also support recovery processes better than ice. Curcumin, fish oil, high-quality protein, and antioxidant-rich berries have all shown benefits for improving injury recovery and easing muscle pain.
Icing does more harm than good when it comes to recuperation from injury. It's time to stop icing your injuries.
Active recovery will improve muscle activation and help heal faster than ice.
Nutrition can support recovery from injury and muscle soreness.