Ice disrupts the natural healing process
It is essential to understand that inflammation is NOT bad. It is a critical part of the healing process.
Tissue that is damaged through trauma or vigorous exercise requires inflammation. When muscles and other tissues are damaged, your body sends inflammatory cells to the damaged tissue to promote healing.
Inflammatory cells rush to the injured tissue to start the healing process
Powerful immune cells called macrophages release a hormone called insulin-like growth factor (IGF-1) into the damaged tissues after an injury.
IGF-1 is essential for helping damaged muscles and ligaments heal. Applying ice to reduce swelling actually delays healing by preventing the body from releasing IGF-1.
Healthy, fast healing is significantly aided by INCREASED blood flow. Obviously then, decreased blood flow means slower healing times and increases the chance of re-injury or the development of chronic pain.
Did you ever wonder why almost all athletic trainers and therapists ice a limb for ONLY 20 minutes?
In 1980, at the American Orthopedic Society meeting for Sports Medicine in Big Sky, Montana, and then again in 1981, physicians from the Louisiana State University School of Medicine reported on five athletes who obtained nerve palsies (nerve injuries usually to the peroneal nerve that moves the foot up) from too much ice around the knee.
The conclusion of the article was, “Applying ice for more than 30 minutes, and preferably for not more than 20 minutes, should be strictly avoided.”
After you sprain your ankle, this immune response can last for up to 1 week… Since, ice reduces the levels of IGF-1, we would expect to see muscle regeneration slow down.
Therefore, it is no surprise that a recent study concluded that ice appears to delay the return to normal of muscle damage markers.
Put together, these results indicate that using ice on an injury disrupts the body’s normal and healthy response.