A lot of injured people will instinctively reach for ice with the hopes of trying to reduce pain and swelling. Ice can provide temporary pain relief by numbing the area however, there is research that has been done to suggest that ice may be delaying your body’s healing process.

Inflammation following an injury is a normal response and it is an important part of the healing process. When you have damage to a tissue your body sends signals to your inflammatory cells, one of those being macrophages, which are responsible for removing damaged tissue from the site of injury so that new tissue can be laid down. These cells are also responsible for releasing a hormone into the bloodstream known as Insulin-like Growth Factor (IGF-1). This hormone plays an important role in tissue repair and regeneration. When ice is applied to the site of injury it constricts the blood vessels leading to a decrease in blood flow to the area. As a result, this leads to a reduction in the amount of IGF-1 that can reach the injured tissue which then delays the healing process. Heat on the other hand, has the opposite effect causing blood vessels to dilate thereby increasing blood flow.

Excessive inflammation can be problematic as it applies unwanted pressure on the tissues, restricts movement, and can cause pain and decrease muscle function. Your lymphatic system is the most effective method of reducing swelling, and because it doesn’t have its own pumping system it relies on the contractions of surrounding muscles to move the fluid back into the system. For this reason, the most efficient way to help your body heal is to get it moving. Taking a gradual approach, implement exercises into your rehab process as soon as possible starting with range of motion and progressing to strengthening. You will see a decrease in swelling and pain, and an increase in strength around the site of injury.

Techniques such as elevation, compression, and massage can also be used to reduce swelling.

When it comes to treating injuries, you may be familiar with the acronym RICE (Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation). We are moving away from this and adopting a new acronym that encompasses rehabilitation from immediate care to subsequent management… PEACE & LOVE (Protection, Elevation, Avoid anti-inflammatories, Compression, Education & Load, Optimism, Vascularization, Exercises). Give PEACE and LOVE a try!