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Icing your injuries could be delaying your recovery… wait, what?

3 minute read
Girl putting ice on her injured shoulder

Anyone who’s ever sprained a wrist, pulled a muscle or twisted an ankle probably practised the RICE method – Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation. But, it appears that icing your injury may not be helping you recover at all; in fact, it could delay the healing process.

So, how could we get it wrong for so long or did we? And, how are we meant to treat injuries now?

At nib, we believe staying healthy should be simple, so we’ve broken down the new research.

The rise and fall of RICE

RICE was a term coined back in the 1970s by sports medicine professional, Dr Gabe Mirkin. From this, ice was quickly adopted as the standard treatment for injuries and sore muscles, primarily because it helps relieve the pain associated with damaged tissue.

However, Dr Mirkin has now come out against the term that made him famous, citing more than 20 scientific articles that show almost no evidence that combining ice and compression speed up the healing process faster than using just compression.

Credit: Dr. B DPT

But, why?

Dr Mirkin claims that inflammation is key to healing damaged tissue. When you get an injury, inflammatory cells and proteins rush to the affected site and start the healing process. These cells are called macrophages and release a hormone which helps your muscles recover.

He says when you apply ice to your body, it constricts the blood flow to that area. By reducing the blood flow to your injury, you’re minimising the amount of healing cells that can get there. Once you’ve iced your injury, the blood vessels may not open again for many hours later, which can result in permanent nerve damage and can cause the surrounding tissue to die.

He also claims that anything that reduces the inflammation in your injury can also prolong the healing process. This could include cortisone drugs, pain relief medication like ibuprofen and even immune suppressants (which are used to treat a number of conditions, such as arthritis).

When you apply ice to your body, it constricts the blood flow to that area. By reducing the blood flow, you’re minimising the amount of healing cells that can get there

So, what are you meant to do next time you get a muscular or soft tissue injury?

Dr Mirkin recommends that you stop exercising immediately and if emergency treatment is needed, call ‘000’. If you don’t need emergency attention, elevate the injured body part, as this will reduce the swelling and ask your doctor, coach or trainer to apply a compression bandage. Applying ice has been shown to reduce pain, but should only be used sparingly, if at all. If absolutely necessary, ice should only be applied for up to 10 minutes. However, be aware that using ice could potentially prolong the healing process and cause even further damage.

Dr Mirkin also recommends moving your injured body part the next day, so long as you can do so without pain or discomfort; that way you can get back to your healthy-self in less time!

If you do find yourself with a serious muscular or soft tissue injury, it’s quite possible you could need expert advice and rehabilitation from a physiotherapist or chiropractor. At nib, we offer a range of Extras Covers that provide benefits for specialist visits. To check whether you’re covered or to upgrade your policy, visit Online Services, or call us on 13 16 42.

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