Ice has been a go-to therapy for soft tissue injury for decades. In the 1970’s, Dr. Gabe Mirkin coined the acronym RICE to help people remember how to deal with injuries (Rest, Ice, Compression & Elevation).
But based on recent research, Dr. Mirkin himself and much of the scientific community have changed their stance and now recommend avoiding ice. In fact, ice and complete rest of the injured area are likely to delay healing instead of help.
The main reason for this comes down to inflammation. Specifically, the body needs short-term inflammation in order to heal properly. In an inflammatory response, tissues swell so that additional blood can fit in the injured area. In that blood is a magical soup of healing: white blood cells (to clean up debris and fight infection), natural pain killers, hormones, and nutrients that combine to speed up the healing process.
Applying ice to an injured tissue slows down this process. Ice or cold causes blood vessels to constrict and restricts the tissue-healing blood from getting to the area. This delays healing in the best case scenario and in the worst case scenario, tissue can die from lack of blood flow resulting in permanent damage (this is often part of the problem in cases of sprained ankles that “never heal all the way”).
So what should you do post-injury? Well, it depends on the injury. For any injury, stop what you are doing – don’t try to power through it. If you suspect or think it is possible that there is a broken bone or if you lose consciousness, you have to get checked out by a doctor ASAP to avoid long-term complications. If you hit a body part and expect a bruise, I usually recommend a combination of Arnica and Chinese topical herbal formulas to help move blood (aiding the natural inflammatory process) and relieve pain.
Sprains depend on the severity, and should absolutely be evaluated and treated effectively by a trained sports medicine practitioner. In most cases, a combination of Chinese topical herbs, massage & acupuncture around the injured area can work wonders in healing a sprained ligament.