Ice has always been used to reduce inflammation when there is an acute injury. There is however no evidence at all that shows that using ice for acute injuries improves your recovery or gets you back to your normal state.
It is true that ice helps decrease pain and reduce inflammation because it creates a vasoconstriction effect and pushes blood out of the inflamed area.
Is inflammation always bad?
Inflammation may be a negative thing in a chronic state but not in an acute state. Inflammation is a fundamental part of healing as it involves an increase in immune cells and macrophages which help to clean up the area. It also involves an increased flow of oxygen and blood that carries nutrients and hormones like insulin growth factor number one (IGF-1).
Inflammation involves an incredibly complex coordinated effect of your body trying to heal an area but then people start doing things that stop the healing process.
Why you should not use cold therapy for acute injuries
Applying ice inhibits recovery, slows the repair process, and delays normal function. Applying cold therapy does decrease pain but at the expense of inhibiting recovery. This is also the case when people take medications like NSAIDS which slow the repair as well because they get rid of inflammation.
The key to repair is not to reduce inflammation prematurely. The same thing goes with a lot of other things in the body. When you have a fever, for example, your body is trying to heat up to kill off the virus or if you start sneezing your body is trying to eliminate something that’s in your nasal passages.
It is usually taught in schools that the RICE (rest, ice, compression, elevation) protocol should be applied to all acute injuries, and then if it is chronic you use heat. It is probably not possible to use heat on an acute injury because that’s going to actually add more swelling and pain.
Alternatives to Cold Therapy for Acute Injuries
1. Range of Motion
Depending on the severity, you should put a passive or sometimes active range of motion when you suffer from a sprain or strain. More motion will activate more lymph and more circulation and it will speed up your recovery.
2. Infrared Therapy
This involves putting a light into a certain body area and this has been proven to increase the recovery of an injury and dramatically decrease pain as well.
3. Vitamin D
Vitamin D is natural and can greatly support your immune system. If you have any inflammation at all or pain, a higher dosage of vitamin D like 40 000 IU every day for about a whole week is recommended. You will find out very quickly that you will shorten the recovery time.
4. Manual therapy opposite side
This is a fascinating technique and it is counter-intuitive. If you injure your right ankle, for example, you would use manual therapy on your left ankle. At first, it sounds kind of weird and you’re like wait that’s not going to do anything but go ahead and try it.
You will find out it will work as all the nerves on the right side of the body are connected to the left side of the body through the spinal cord and when you work on the left side of the body it affects the right side of the body. It is on the same circuit and these neurological circuits are embedded in your muscles to allow things to be coordinated so you can walk and you can perform certain motions.
Manual therapy involves anything from trigger point therapy to massage or any type of stimulation. The next time you injure yourself, you need to try this out to see for yourself. Just remember anytime you hurt on one side of the body, stimulate the exact opposite mirror image side.
It also works in another way. So if your back is hurting, you can also work on the front part of the abdominal area.