Stop Icing

Monday January 29, 2018
Ben Bergeron & Christine Bald

Many are familiar with the protocol for treating acute sports injuries: RICE (Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation). In fact, most of us have been told to “put ice on it” in some capacity or another for as long as we can remember. Almost forty years after its original publication, the doctor behind RICE retracted his advice in 2014:

“Almost forty years ago, I coined the term RICE as the treatment for acute sports injuries. Subsequent research shows that rest and ice  can actually delay recovery. Mild movements help tissue to heal and the application of cold suppresses the immune responses that start and hasten recovery.” -Dr. Gabe Mirkin

Wait, what? How can something so universally accepted and practiced be so wrong? As health detective Chris Kresser points out, the history of science is “a history of most people being wrong about most things most of the time.”

We know far more about the role of inflammatory cells in healing now than we did in 1978. While still useful as a short-term treatment to decrease pain, we now understand that delaying the inflammatory (healing) process and reducing blood flow does nothing to improve recovery and likely slows and delays the healing process.

So where do we go from here?

Studies show that the best thing you can do to optimize recovery is to move. According to an article in the Journal of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, the goal is to find practical active recovery and loading methods that will not aggravate the tissue or cause any additional damage. Ideally, you should try to activate the muscles surrounding the damaged tissue in order to achieve the largest amount of pain-free, low-stress, and non-fatiguing muscle activation. Mild, controlled movement in the affected area will generate a lymphatic flush and increase circulation, bringing nourishment in and waste out of the area.

Bottom line: If you want to speed recovery, skip the ice and focus on controlled, low-stress, non-fatiguing muscle activation.