Football and soccer moms ask me all of the time: “Is it better to use heat or ice for an injury?” This is an age-old argument; in short, ice is the best treatment for acute post-exercise recovery and inflammation treatment. Let’s examine some general physiological effects/benefits of using ice treatment.
Applying ice after exercise or an injury to joints or sore muscles relieves pain by temporarily decreasing nerve conduction. Ice provides an analgesic effect when applied for 10-20 minutes.
Reduces swelling and inflammation
Applying ice can reduce swelling by reducing the blood flow and metabolic processes that are present during an inflammatory response produced by exercise or an acute injury.
Reduces muscle spasm
For similar physiological reasons, decreased muscle spasm and guarding is a benefit of using ice.
Promotes quicker healing
Studies have indicated that using ice within 36 hours after an acute injury was statistically better than using heat. One study indicated that those who applied ice within 36 hours of an injury returned to full activity in 13.2 days as compared to 33.3 days for those who applied heat.
After rigorous exercise, many elite athletes seek out ice baths for its therapeutic relief.
There are a few general precautions and contraindications to ice. Using ice treatment should be avoided if any of the conditions below are present.
After an injury, remember the acronym R.I.C.E.: rest, ice compression, and elevation.
Unfortunately, most patients hate this restriction due to feeling confining, awkward, and uncomfortable. Greater damage can occur when a R.I.C.E. routine is not adhered to when advised by a medical provider.
Be sure to seek medical attention from your healthcare provider to rule out any serious injury and plan a proper course of treatment.