Ice Vs Heat For Injuries and Soreness

I woke up this morning a little later than I wanted to. I didn’t feel very well and I had to get ready a little faster than I like. That’s the deal when you’ve got a one year old in the house though. 

While I was scurrying around I made the error of not warming up my car OR wearing enough layers because let me tell you, this morning, it was COLD.

Once I got to the gym and finally warmed up I started thinking about what just happened. Not the lack of preparation part, but the being absurdly cold part. My body was shutting down. I stiffened up, all of my movements became restricted, my fingers didn’t want to fully extend, my back curled up, and I even lost the ability to fully focus. 

This might sound a little dramatic, but that’s because it is. But please don’t dismiss the point I’m making because of my dramatic humor. 

The point here is when we get cold, our body does not work as well. Yet, we continue to use ice on our bodies as a form of therapy and pain relief. 

In recent history a lot of evidence has come out regarding the RICE method. If you’re not familiar it is the method used for injuries (Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation). This is more or less a household understanding at this point in history. However, like many things in medicine and fitness, it has become a widely understood misconception. Basically what I’m saying is that it has been proven to be about 50% correct. Meaning it’s also about 50% wrong. The wrong part being the rest and ice part. 

As of the last few years, science has shown us that using ice for sore, or “hurt” muscles and soft tissues actually slows down the healing process and can even make the situation worse. 

What has been discovered is that cold therapy restricts the free flow of blood and causes the muscle tissue to tighten up, preventing blood, water, oxygen, and other nutrients from flowing freely to the affected area. Ice DOES eliminate inflammation, however it does it acutely. This is counter intuitive to what you want because once the ice is removed the inflammation will come back because of the restriction stated above. 

The reason so many people like to use ice is the same reason we like muscle creams laced with menthol. It provides us with a sensation. Simply put, that sensation makes us feel like we are doing something.

Research has shown that ice is not only ineffective but could actually slow down your recovery, whereas this very same research has shown that heat is far more effective and safe. 

What heat does is facilitate the natural healing process of the body. It shows the body where a problem is and creates a call to action to send more blood, more oxygen, and water. The heat keeps the general area of concern warm and loose. This facilitates the natural elimination of inflammation through normal blood flow physics without all of the fall out ice creates by tightening everything up. 

So long story short, if you are sore, or a little tweaked up, ditch the ice. Use a heat pad and try to keep the area warm and mobile. The ice may provide you with the sensation of progress that you are looking for, but know that the data is not on the side of sensation. 

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