We’ve all heard that the best thing to do after an injury is to apply ice. RICE (Rest Ice Compress Elevate) after an injury, is used at all levels of athletics, from elementary school P.E. class all the way up to world-class, professional sports.
But how did this idea get started, and more important, is it really true? This well researched article in Men’s Health suggests that the answer is a resounding “no.”
“… no piece of published, peer-reviewed research has shown definitively that ice is beneficial to the healing process. In fact, recent studies have shown the opposite. Ice can delay healing, increase swelling, and possibly cause additional damage to injured tissues.”
More specifically, ice can interfere with the body’s natural inflammatory response—which is critical for healing.
Everything we need to heal—macrophages, white blood cells, insulin-like growth factor 1, etc.—is in the blood. When we apply ice to an injured area, the blood vessels constrict, and blood flow is limited.
This is especially interesting to me as a Chinese medicine practitioner as in Chinese medicine (or even martial arts for that matter), ice is NEVER recommended after an injury as Cold is believe to stop the flow of Qi and Blood (it is now clear that icing does impede blood flow). Instead, heat (as with moxibustion, which most of my patients will have experienced at one point or another) and other modalities that increase blood flow, like acupuncture, are the preferred interventions.
In spite of the lack of evidence to support that old theory, the vast majority of people still believe that icing after an injury is the best action to take. If you’re in this group, the article aforementioned is thorough and clear, do read it to get all the details! Just because something has become common knowledge or believed by many doesn´t make it accurate or true.
Other common health assumptions that have become common belief include the belief that saturated fat and dietary cholesterol are the primary drivers of heart disease or that too much stomach acid is the cause of heartburn and GERD. I will leave those for another article but it is worth investigating if you like!
If you suffer from post injury pain or chronic pain and would like to know how acupuncture could help just get in touch!