the benefits of icing physiological techniques swelling injuries

Are those weekend bouts of exercise leaving your body with aches and pains? Are you taking any steps to prepare your body for your next workout session? Post-workout icing is an effective and under-utilized method for reducing inflammation, soreness, and enhancing the healing process. If you’re not consistently icing, take  time to consider your body’s positive response to and the overall benefits of icing. Then use the strategies at the end of this article to get the most from your icing practice.

 Physiological Response

How does the body react to temperature therapy at the cellular level?

  • Cellular Response – At a fundamental level, muscles exposed to high degrees of resistance and pressure will develop microtears, which is also called microtrauma. Severe muscle soreness and connective tissue strains can cause cellular damage. In this case, cell membranes are breached, leaving cells damaged and in need of recovery. Cellular function itself is inhibited, and fluids accumulate in the cell and surrounding tissue, further impeding the healing process. Reducing the cell temperature through ice application relieves the cell’s burden to process and eliminate fluid, thus promoting cellular efficiency and healing.
  • Reduction of Inflammation and Muscle Spasms – In a more general sense, larger injured areas receive an augmented flow of blood, which in turn can increase swelling and cause further inflammation. Nerves will also become increasingly sensitive, and thus increase the likelihood of painful spasms and contractions. Applying cold pressure to the injury site causes blood vessels surrounding the area to constrict, inhibiting the flow of fluid and lessening the inflammatory response, muscle sensitivity, and the potential exacerbation of the injury.

 Proper Methodology

We know that icing is beneficial. But how does one go about it most effectively? To maximize your benefit, consider creating a precise plan using timing, target, and duration.

  • Timing – When it comes to icing, time is of the essence. A crucial window of time is available immediately following an injury, when the area in question is especially prone to swelling and inflammation. It’s during this window that the area is particularly responsive to an immediate and direct application of ice. Injuries that are not treated soon will inflame and swell, further irritating the area and inhibiting the healing process. One crucial thing to remember is that icing should only be a post-workout treatment. Cooling and numbing your muscles prior to physical activity can increase the chances of injury.
  • Target Area – When it comes to icing, it’s best to concentrate on one area at a time. A specific application point will give the problem area the attention it needs, reducing swelling and contributing to healing.
  • Duration – Application of ice for a protracted period of time is not only unnecessary, but can actually reverse the intended benefit of reducing inflammation. A reduction of soft tissue temperature to a great degree for a prolonged period can trigger a bodily response of blood and fluid to the injured area. Though recommendations as to duration vary, most agree that it is acceptable to ice between 10 to 20 minutes. 

Reference: Soft tissue thermodynamics before, during, and after cold pack therapy. (Enwemeka CS, Allen C, Avila P, Bina J, Konrade J, Munns S.)

Originally posted 2013-09-18 13:04:02.


2 Responses

Leave a Reply