Is it still cool to ice your injuries?

An article recently featured in the Ottawa Citizen supported new evidence that icing injuries and sprains may not always the best approach. The traditional thinking, that applying ice to an injury to reduce inflammation and blood flow, is being challenged by recent studies that suggest that repeated icing of injuries or overworked muscles could have negative consequences.  A growing trend recommends against icing injuries so as not to delay or impair the natural healing response that occurs following injury or exercise. The micro damage that occurs after intense exercise or injury followed by a period of recovery are necessary for the rebuilding process and too much cooling can delay or impair the healing. 

Research has shown that cooling is more important than reducing blood flow to affected tissues and that the cooling properties of ice need to reach far beyond the surface to be effective. During ice application, the skin and superficial tissues reach significantly lower temperatures than the deep muscle tissue, where it is most effective. In other words, ice tends to cool the skin much more than the underlying injury. Researchers recommend using a bag of ice or peas to ice an injury rather than gel cold packs as anything that melts from a solid to a liquid promotes more effective deep cooling. Gel packs have a greater chance of frosting your skin than cooling the soft tissue deep below the surface. For best results, repeat icing in short but frequent applications in the 12 to 24 hours post injury or workout.

In short, icing on the odd occasion when the muscles need extra attention or trying to recover quickly from workouts can provide some relief. But frequent icing should not be a long-term strategy in most cases.