Why You Should Stop Icing Injuries

Estimated read time: 4 minutes

Icing injuries has been a standard practice.

But I’m here to tell you, it’s wrong.

And it may actually be making it harder to heal from your injuries.

Let’s take a look at why icing could be hindering your healing and what I want you to think about doing instead.

Plus, I’m going to give you a really easy method to follow immediately following an acute injury to decrease pain and get healing fast!

The Old Ideology: R.I.C.E. (Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation)

This approach suggests:

Rest: Don’t use the injured area.

Ice: Apply ice to reduce inflammation.

Compression: Wrap the injury to limit swelling.

Elevation: Keep the injury above heart level.

But then there was this Harvard study that basically said, wait a minute inflammation is your friend!

And that makes sense!

When you get injured, your body’s first response is to use inflammation to heal. What does that mean?

Inflammation is crucial to the healing process. It processes the damaged and dead cells and helps carry them away from the injury site to allow for the process of rebuilding of tissue with new cells at the injury site.

But guess what slows down inflammation? Yup. You guessed  it, ice!

And if you slow or stop inflammation, you stop healing.

Even though the R.I.C.E. method has practically been debunked in new studies, many doctors still recommend icing! Which makes me a little crazy.

What to Do Instead?

M.E.T.H. Yes, you heard that right: you are going to use METH to get better fast!

Step 1: Movement (must be pain free)

Use Gentle Movement: Instead of immobilization of the injured body part, move the injured area without causing pain. Now go back and read that sentence again.

The reason this is so important to get clear in your head is once you move into pain, your body again stops healing.

So even if the pain free movement that’s available is almost imperceptible to the naked eye because of the injury, stay in that zone only!

What this does is two things:

  • Helps maintain some function, slows atrophy, and prevents stiffness from setting in.
  • Tells your body it’s ok to move and heal because you are protecting your body by keeping it pain free as much as possible.

Step 2: Elevation (when possible)

It’s not always possible to elevate. Example, try getting your hip above your head. It’s not gonna happen. But if it’s a limb it’s quite possible that you can elevate it when you are resting. Ideally, above heart level. What this does is keep the injured part from swelling due to the pooling of fluid to the affected area. The injury is already a compromised area. You don’t want to add to that.

Step 3: Traction then Heat

Use a little bit of heat not too much not too hot. Think of Goldilocks and the three bears and the keep the heat just right.

Heat is a vasodilator, meaning it improves blood flow because it triggers blood vessels to expand  improving circulation which is essential for delivering oxygen and nutrients to the injury.

Adding in that gentle traction helps create space in the joint, relieving pressure and promoting better healing. These two combined speed up recovery.

In review, use the METH approach not RICE for speeding up recovery.

M. Movement

E. Elevation

T. Traction

H. Heat

What do I tell my doctor if they recommend I use ice?

You could reference new research they may be unaware of and tell them what you’d like to use instead. The best approach is open communication with your doctor. So they can guide you best.

Is ice ever appropriate to use?

Yes. Ice has been proven to reduce immediate pain. So just consider the pros and cons and decide whether it’s more important to receive immediate pain relief from ice or to promote faster long term healing with METH.

When else is ice acceptable for use?

For chronic conditions like bone-on-bone arthritis, where the body cannot heal the underlying issue, icing to numb the pain is acceptable. Always make sure this is not direct skin contact so you don’t cause tissue damage. When using ice, numbing the area is a factor that can cause tissue damage.

See you next week with more actionable health insights!





Why You Should Stop Icing Injuries