How many times have you come home from a long run, hard training session, or rugby game, and pulled a bag of frozen peas out of the freezer for your sore joint and/or muscle? Conventional wisdom has led us to believe that inflammation must be controlled, if not eliminated, to encourage healing. Ice is not always the panacea that most of us believe it used to be and can be counterproductive.
Research shows that a hormone produced by inflamed tissue helps heal the damaged tissue. Lan Zhou, M.D., Ph.D from the Neuroinflammation Research Center/Department of Neurosciences/Lerner Research Institute at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio found that the presence of inflammatory cells in acute muscle injury produced a high level of insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1) which significantly increases the rate of muscle regeneration.
A 2004 study concluded that ice was effective at numbing soreness, but it also significantly reduced muscle strength and power, lessened fine motor coordination, and impaired limb proprioception, for up to 15 minutes after icing had ended.
Gerald Weissmann, editor of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology journal states: “It’s been known for a long time that excess anti-inflammatory medication, such as cortisone, slows wound healing. This study goes a long way to telling us why: insulin-like growth factor and other materials released by inflammatory cells helps wounds to heal.”
Simply put, inflammation is our body’s natural healing process. Eliminating it through the outdated protocol of RICE (Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation) will delay healing and muscle repair, thereby delaying return to sport. Furthermore, incorporation of Rest, Compression, and Elevation, is essentially immobilization which also has detrimental effects on healing and tissue repair and function.
Athletes need to be aware that pain is our body’s warning light which is indicating that something may be wrong. Getting rid of pain through the use of ice and/or oral anti-inflammatories may lead to serious injury.
Christine Gibbs, MPT
A Step Ahead Physiotherapy