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Sports Injuries: Ice on injury may not be beneficial | East London Acupuncture & Massage Therapy
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East London Acupuncture & Massage Therapy

Ice on soft tissue injury may not be beneficial

14 September 2011

Resent research suggests that putting an ice pack on a sprain or strain may not be beneficial, and could actually slow down the body’s healing process.

For years now, our first reaction to a sprain or strain has been to reach for ice, or more often a bag of frozen peas. The acronym ‘RICE’ (rest, ice, compression, elevation) is the standard way of remembering what to do after such an injury.

However, a study carried out at the Neuroinflammation Research Centre at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio, USA, looked at the effect of ice on the body’s ability to repair. It found that recovery rates were slower when ice was used, and that it may prevent the release of certain chemicals necessary in the repair process.

In Chinese Medicine, ice and ‘cold therapy’ are rarely used. In Chinese Medicine Theory, cold contracts and stagnates, stopping the flow of blood to the area and slowing the healing process – exactly what this new study suggests is happening. In fact, overuse of ice can, according to Chinese theory, result in more serious, long term problems later on, such as arthritis.

So does this mean that ice should never be used?

Well, not necessarily.

After an injury like a twisted ankle, the body produces swelling. This helps to protect the area from further damage, but also reduces the blood flow. The key is to reduce the swelling, but maintain as much blood flow, exchange of tissue fluids, removal of damaged cells etc as possible.

Ice can reduce the swelling in the acute stage, but must be used with caution; for a short periods (20 minutes at most, with a gap of 2-3 hours between each application) and only very locally (applied on the area of swelling itself, not around). Many people simply put a large amount of ice over a wide area for a long time. And as ice acts as an analgesic, the pain is reduced and it therefore feels like it’s doing good. Some people have even given themselves frost bite from overusing ice packs.

Chinese treatment of sprains and strains

In the initial stages of an injury to soft tissue, Chinese treatment often consists of the application of herbal packs. These are an alternative to ice and aim to reduce the swelling whilst encouraging blood to flow through the area. The idea is to remove the metabolic waste produced by the injury, or what is known as ‘Blood Stagnation’ (Xue Yu) in Chinese terms. San Huang San (typically consisting of herbs such as Da huang, Huang qin, Huang bai, Pu gong ying, Zhi zi and Hong hua) cools and moves, thus is great for these injuries during the acute phase.

Massage (tui na) and acupuncture are also applied around the area and along the channels, avoiding the site of injury itself at this stage, so as not to worsen any damage.

Once the swelling has been reduced, normally after a day or so, warming and moving liniments are normally applied, such as Dit Dar Jao or Zheng Gu Shui. Tiger balm or Red Flower Oil are good alternatives if you cannot find these. Acupuncture and massage are continued, and begin to incorporate treatment directly to the local area.

2 Responses

  • home gyme reivewsSeptember 25, 2011 at 1:29 am 

    Much appreciated for the information and share!

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