Should you Ice or Heat an Injury?

 July 30, 2019|  Lauren

“Get some ice on that” We’ve all heard it but it’s not always the best way to help an injury. In fact, sometimes the swelling and pain we experience actually supports the healing process. So how do you know which one to use and when?

Inflammation, it’s become sort of a bad word in the health and fitness world – it’s no surprise really, after all there are numerous conditions that go hand in hand with chronic inflammation:

Skin issues
Lung issues
Heart issues
Digestive issues

As a result we’re all eating foods that “fight inflammation” and our go to is to ice injuries to keep inflammation down. But, and here me out now, what if inflammation is sometimes a good thing?

With many acute injuries, and assuming there is no infection, the swelling and pain often actually supports the healing process. The localised inflammation allows white blood cell to easily travel into the damaged area and support healing.

If you start taking anti-inflammatories and using ice you risk slowing down the healing process by reducing the access your white blood cells have to the area. Never mind the fact that icing an injury reduces the blood flow to the area so there are less nutrients to create new tissue and carry away the waste from the damaged area. When blood flow is reduced, this waste that the white blood cells are trying to remove from the area gets stuck and scar tissue forms, impairing the healing process.

Keep in mind, it’s always a good idea to get checked out if you injure yourself and it’s imperative if an infection is present but remember that the natural responses such as fever and swelling serve a purpose. While reducing inflammation and blood flow helps to reduce pain (which is important) there are other options for managing that discomfort that doesn’t suppress inflammation and blood flow.


No I don’t mean your meal prep options.
When it comes to managing an acute injury you’ll most probably remember RICE: rest, ice, compress, elevate. But that doesn’t always support the healing process.

RICE is good for reducing pain and swelling but it slows the natural repair response. In fact, evidence shows that it is not only ineffective but can actually be damaging in some cases. Instead try remembering another acronym: MEAT.

MEAT stands for movement, exercise, analgesics (not anti-inflammatories), and treatments (as in other treatments like physical therapy and/or massage).

Combe this approach this with hot, blood moving herbs (like cayenne salve or a ginger compress) that can help increase circulation to the area and support the flow of blood.

You may still see some professionals using ice, but they use it very differently. You’ll find that they alternate between cold and hot, to bring blood to the area, then send it away repeatedly to support the carrying of nutrients to the site and the carrying of wastes away.

Even when you think you’re all healed up, check with a professional before hitting the gym again so you don’t end up with prolonged after effects that can hinder your performance. Visit professional massage therapists, chiropractor or physical therapists to make sure there’s no rehab you need to go through first.

 July 30, 2019 | Lauren

About the Author

Lauren Jacobsen is the Director of Nutrition for Kcal Brands and the Head of Fuel Up. Lauren has over 15 years of experience in nutrition and supplementation focused on physique athlete development. Lauren is also a former IFBB competitive figure athlete, and long time contributor to fitness magazines worldwide.

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