After an injury such as an ankle sprain or a pulled muscle, our first thought is often to put ice on the injury, but why? We do this because it is what we have always done and what we have been told is the correct way to treat an injury. The ice is supposed to numb the pain and reduce the swelling. The proper protocol has always been to RICE. or rest, ice, compression and elevation.
The use of ice to numb the pain and reduce the swelling is supposed to speed the healing process. The problem with just doing the thing we have always done is sometimes that isn’t the best solution. There is new research that says that icing may actually delay the healing process. One problem with the rice method is we tend to over ice and ignore the rest of the acronym.
The RICE model needs to be reevaluated, and more precise specifications need to be created if ice is still being used. Temperature, time and number of applications need to be standardized. Freezing cold ice on flesh can be damaging for prolonged periods. Icing for periods exceeding 20 minutes should be avoided as it can damage the skin and tissue. New advances in compression technology may also be a key part to the healing process.
Studies still lack clear, concise answers. The research I have read has varied from, “Ice may be helpful,” or, “Ice in conjunction with compression or other treatments seem to be helpful,” or, “ A small amount of ice or cooling with other treatment appears to be helpful,” to, “Ice can prolong the injury and slow the healing process.” The problems with the current research that supports icing are the studies were done without a control and the evidence is anecdotal.
I am not telling you that ice is evil and we should stop it immediately, but this is an important question. We all have used ice to heal or alleviate our own aches and pains countless times, and this this is still the go to method being used on our athletes and your children. From the research I have read, the most common theme was that ice appeared to be beneficial when combined with compression, elevation and or exercise when capable.
We need to support what we’re doing with science and find the most effective approach. More research needs to be done on this topic as yet there does not appear to be one clear answer.
By: Mike Lambert, SPARC Specialist