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Should we treat pain and inflammation with ice?

Should we treat pain and inflammation with ice?

I know, it seems counter-intuitive to deny yourself instant relief when you suffer a painful injury.  Yet, science says ice may not be the best way to treat a soft tissue injury.


Here’s a piece of unconventional advice when you are in pain: Leave the ice pack in the freezer.

In fact, ice can actually delay healing and so many sport injury professionals are re-evaluating the use of ice as a treatment for acute injury and pain.

The cold facts about using ice to treat pain

Using ice to treat inflammation and pain has been advocated for decades because ice is effective at numbing pain.  The treatment protocol of Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation – the acronym RICE – was coined in 1978 by Dr Gabe Mirkin. Since then it has become the standard treatment for virtually all injuries. Athletes and professional sports people often talk about having ice baths after competition. While in every household freezer the ice pack is permanently at the ready in case of an injury or painful flare up. Yet, the biophysical effects of ice on damaged tissue are actually counter-productive to the body’s own healing response. Ice can do more harm than good.

Just as skin cancer research debunked the idea that sunbaking gave you a ‘healthy tan’, recent studies have questioned the value of treating soft tissue injuries with ice.

Today, Dr Mirkin, the sports medicine guru who coined the acronym RICE, now warns against excessive use of ice, because it prevents the natural healing response of inflammation and delays healing. According to Dr Mirkin, ice prevents the healing cells to enter injured tissue. It also reduces strength, speed, endurance and coordination.

Dozens of studies have shown that ice has little benefit for treating acute injuries.  This is because when ice is applied to injured tissue it restricts the blood flow and release of the beneficial chemicals that are necessary to naturally heal and reduce pain. One study published in the Journal of Emergency Medicine in 2008 concluded 'there is insufficient evidence to suggest that cryotherapy improves clinical outcome in the management of soft tissue injuries.' Is Ice Right? Does Cryotherapy Improve Outcomes for Acute Soft Tissue Injury? JEM, 2008; Feb. 25; 65–68

Another consideration is that delaying the body’s natural healing mechanisms can lead to the formation of scar tissue, with long-term impacts.

MELT the pain away instead

Recovering from an injury can be slow, painful and frustrating. Finding relief and limiting the pain is a natural instinct, and many people still reach for ice and anti-inflammatory medication. We now know these should only be used in the short-term.  The good news is that there is a new alternative treatment protocol to achieve longer term relief from pain in muscles, ligaments and joints. Today, rather than RICE, the new holistic treatment method is the handy acronym MELT: Movement, Elevation, Low Level Laser and Taping.

Movement: rather than rest, we need to move to allow the blood to flow and stimulate the healing process. In doing so, we improve the mobility of ligaments and joints.

Elevation: is the natural way to reduce swelling and relieve pain.

Low Level Laser Therapy: Super-pulsed low level laser therapy (also known as cold laser therapy), used by the Pulse Handy Cure Laser, acts to synthesise the production of ATP, triggering a natural chain reaction that regenerates healthy tissue. This leads to a reduction in excessive inflammation, improved circulation and mobility and pain relief.

Taping: The final part of the process is taping with kinesio tape. This acts to support the injury to allow greater movement as well as allowing more blood flow to the soft tissue for optimal healing.

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