To Ice or Not to Ice...That is the Question
And the answer is NOT! Yes, I know, we’ve all been icing our acute strains and sprains since the invention of the freezer (which makes me wonder what we did before ice was available?) but who decided that it was a good idea? I watched so many CrossFit Games athletes plunging their jacked up forearms into coolers of icy water after the second last event and I couldn’t help but cringe – especially because they still had another event to do that would require significant forearm usage.
The point of icing an injury is to decrease inflammation, but the inflammatory response of an acute injury is actually beneficial (the body knows what it needs better than the brain does!) Inflammation increases circulation to the damaged tissue, helping it to heal, while the swelling around the area acts as an immobilizer so that we don’t do something silly like start using that injured body part before it is fully healed. So by putting ice on the injury, we are slowing down this process, when we should be trying to speed it up.
Icing is also supposed to help with pain. However, the pain serves a protective function as well, which is to prevent further injury – that is, if we listen to it. Yes, I realize the CrossFit athletes had another event to go before they could rest and recover, but there is definitely a more effective way to deal with that pain. And all that icing really did was decrease blood flow to the area that needed it most.
So what speeds healing of an acute injury? JFB-MFR does. The gentle approach of John F Barnes’ Myofascial Release on an acute injury can cut recovery time dramatically. It opens up the tissue that surrounds the injury so that circulation can flow freely and it prevents scar tissue from sticking to everything around it as the damaged tissue is repaired by the body’s innate mechanisms.
Obviously, during a competition, there isn’t always time to get treated by a therapist, so in the case of the CrossFit Games athletes after the “The Rope Chipper” event, if they had just held their fingers, hands and wrists in gentle extension for a couple of minutes, they would have opened up some of that tight tissue in their forearms and been in much better shape for the “Redemption” event finale which would have been taxing on the grip and forearms without the previous event.
So to summarize, icing is good only on cake. Applying ice to your body will risk further injury and tissue damage from frostbite. Save the ice for your drinks and help your body heal itself!