When growing up we have all been taught to apply ice to our acute injuries, especially those with swelling. We see professional athletes hopping into ice baths to aid in post-match recovery – so it must be legit! However, due to recent research health professionals are now debating the effectiveness of ice, even prompting some to advise AGAINST the use of ice. So, what’s the problem?
Ice is typically thought to cause vasoconstriction and therefore reduce the amount swelling that occurs post-injury. This would ideally mean a quicker recovery and return to activity. However, research shows that inflammation/swelling is a natural and NECESSARY part of recovery and tissue adaptation. Furthermore, ice has been shown to have nil advantage for recovery time compared to no ice. Thus, health professionals may dispute ice packs/baths in order to avoid disruption of the inflammatory response.
However, to put things in perspective, the disruption of the inflammatory response from ice is inconsequential compared to cortisone and anti-inflammatory drugs. Correspondingly, if applied for short amounts of time, and with appropriate insulation mediums (e.g. water, bandages, cloth etc.), ice will certainly not worsen your outcome and time of recovery. It HAS however, been shown to provide a temporary analgesic effect, which you may consider relevant information if you’ve just rolled your ankle.
In summary, everyone needs to chill out. Whilst evidence does not suggest ice provides all the benefits in recovery that we originally believed, it can provide temporary, safe, and affordable pain relief when applied in a responsible manner. Of course, you can OPTIMISE your recovery by pairing this with a tailored rehab program from your physio.