Think Twice Before You Ice – Icing May Not Be The Best Approach

Latest research has shown that cooling an injury with ice is not always the best treatment. In fact in some case using an ice pack (often a bag of frozen peas) may actually prevent healing. This will come as a shock to sports coaches and gym instructors all over the world who have always used ice packs in the first instance of any swelling that results from an injury.

The purpose of apply an ice pack to an injured area is to reduce swelling after a muscle is torn or twisted so that the blood supply can continue to flow to the injury. However, it seems that icing an injury may actually prevent vital hormones from being released which would normally speed up the healing process.

Researchers at the Neuro-inflammation Research Centre at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio now believe that swelling is a vital part of the healing process.

When cells swell up they start to product more IGF-1 which is a hormone related to growth and mostly aids muscle repair and development.

“For wounds to heal we need controlled inflammation, not too much, and not too little. It’s been known for a long time that excess anti-inflammatory medication, such as cortisone, slows wound healing. This study goes a long way to telling us why: insulin-like growth factor and other materials released by inflammatory cells helps wound to heal.” Gerald Weissmann, M.D. editor of FASEB.

This research extends beyond sporting injuries, as many medical procedures involves the administering of anti-inflammatory medicines to aid recovery. It may be that these drugs could actually be slowing down recovery.

However, more research is needed in this area before athletic coaches and sports therapists ditch the ice packs because the research also found that there are times when ice is still a good idea. Often after an injury the damaged area will be flooded with blood and slowing this flow can actually ensure the body stabilizes sooner.

Also, some injuries are better treated with heat. Often injured tendons require heat treatment to improve blood flow. Ankle and heel injuries can benefit from warmth as the extremeties do not receive adequate blood flow to maximise healing.

The research was published in The FASEB Journal.


Haiyan Lu, Danping Huang, Noah Saederup, Israel F. Charo, Richard M. Ransohoff, and Lan Zhou. Macrophages recruited via CCR2 produce insulin-like growth factor-1 to repair acute skeletal muscle injury FASEB J. doi:10.1096/fj.10-171579 ;

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