Icing an Injury – Is it Wise?

One of the most common remedies for pain and inflammation has been to apply ice, but recent evidence and debate suggests that this may delay recovery.  If you have recently suffered an injury involving a joint or ligament, it might be worth holding off on the ice packs and consulting with your physiotherapist first. In this blog post, Therapy Services Physio will be sharing some insight into the latest research surrounding ice in physiotherapy and injury management.

Background of Ice in Physiotherapy

The RICE (Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation) treatment was first developed in 1978 by Dr Gabe Mirkin. It was presumed that ice would help to reduce the inflammatory response, resulting in improved and accelerated healing. To this day, professional athletes are frequently seen on television using ice to relieve their symptoms after an injury. Whilst the RICE principle has undergone numerous developments and later took the form of POLICE (Protection, Optimal Loading, Ice, Compression, Elevation), there is continued debate as to whether ice offers much benefit to an individual’s recovery.

Whilst most people report temporary relief following the application of ice, academic research suggests that ice does not have any impact on the underlying muscles. It merely helps to numb the pain thanks to its analgesic qualities. UCLA professor James Tidball has suggested that extensive use of ice may actually have a negative effect on regeneration, as it reduces cell activity which is necessary for repair. 

Recent Developments

Over the last decade, a lot of debate has occurred with regard to the efficacy of ice treatment. It is understood that following injury, signals are sent to the inflammatory cells which prompt them to begin the healing process and kill off damaged tissue. It is believed that the use of ice may prevent the production of Insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1), which may delay the healing process. 

As of 2019, a new acronym for acute injury management was coined. PEACE & LOVE (Protection, Elevation, Avoid Anti-Inflammatory Drugs, Compression, education & load, Optimism, Vascularisation and Exercise). The use of ice for physiotherapy treatment is no longer recommended.

Can I still use ice to relieve pain?

Given the latest research, it may be best to leave the ice in the freezer. In cases of severe join sprains, ice may still be advisable to reduce swelling in the early stages and support long term recovery. It is important to visit your physiotherapist as soon as possible after sustaining an injury, so that you receive an accurate diagnosis, and an appropriate treatment plan can be developed. As it stands, ice appears to be less important than once thought. 

Suffering from injury? Contact Therapy Services Physio Today

Before you reach for the ice packs, pick up the phone and call Therapy Services Physio today. We have a wealth of experience in treating all types of injuries, and physiotherapy treatment can help you overcome your injuries and return to your usual activities safely and with confidence. We provide in-home physio services in Sydney, to book an appointment please call 0457 521 082 today.