If you or someone you know has been hurt, your first instinct is probably to head to the freezer and grab an ice pack.
But when it comes to injury recovery, should ice be used? And if so … when and how long for?
In this blog we dive into the topic a little further and explore what icing an injury actually does and when it’s a good idea.
Before we begin though, we’re going to explain what an acute injury is and what the inflammatory phase of recovery involves.
What is an acute injury?
Typically, an acute injury is one which happens suddenly and can be quite severe, such as a sprain or a broken bone.
Often this kind of injury is the result of a traumatic event or significant impact.
Once you’ve been hurt, the body instinctively kicks off the inflammatory phase of healing.
Inflammatory phase of wound healing
The inflammatory phase involves a series of cellular pathways and processes which attract white blood cells, nutrients and other factors to the injured site.
These act to stop bleeding and cleanse the body of any foreign matter and necrotic (dead) body tissue.
This is the start of an effective healing process.
But with it, HEAT and SWELLING can occur, which can lead to further PAIN and FUNCTIONAL IMPAIRMENT.
This can delay important rehabilitation involving weight-bearing, balance, range of motion and strengthening activities.
What does icing an injury do?
So, why is icing a GOOD idea?
Icing can decrease heat and swelling, which helps to decrease pain and functional impairment. This in turn allows important rehabilitation activities to occur sooner.
Why is icing a BAD idea?
Icing can potentially interfere with the inflammatory phase which can slow the healing process.
However, the benefits of using ice to achieve faster rehabilitation is well established.
RICE Injury Management
*If you or someone you know has been hurt, it’s important to seek the help of a qualified health professional before beginning any treatment program.
Ever sprained a knee or ankle? You may have heard of the RICE (Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation) method.
To most effectively manage the pain and swelling, ice is used in combination with:
- Elevation, and
When icing, do it for 20 minutes every 2 hours for the first 48-72 hours, as needed.
Icing an Injury
In summary, there isn’t enough research to suggest that we shouldn’t be icing. As a general rule, the worse an injury is, the more beneficial icing will be.