A lot as it turns out. When you ice a sprained ankle, you are interfering with your body’s natural response to an injury. You see, there are three steps that your body will take any time you have an injury (inflammation, repair and remodel). And, we believe the fastest and best way to heal is to support and encourage your body’s natural 3 step response.

But, before we get to the bad, let’s just get the good part of ice out of the way. It is pretty good at short term pain relief. Since, ice stops the communication between nerves and muscle, it numbs the area and relieves pain for a little while. Yes, ice is good at that! But, that’s where the good stuff ends and the bad stuff begins. And you will have to determine if a little short term pain relief is worth the long term agony ice will cause you.

First, this what the creator of R.I.C.E. (rest, ice, compression, elevation) said of his own protocol:

Ice and complete rest may delay healing instead of helping.

– Gabe Mirkin, M.D., Creator of R.I.C.E. (rest, ice compression, elevation)

We strongly believe that you should NOT interrupt and potentially sabotage your body’s natural healing response… And this is the key: your body’s 3 step healing process goes in order. That means it has difficulty going on to step 2 before it has completed step 1. So, if you do anything that slows down or stops step 1, you are sabotaging the entire natural healing process.

Step 1 is the inflammatory response. Your body goes into a lockdown and swells the injured area to help immobilize and protect it, while triggering your immune system into responding. This is a very sophisticated response to an injury and you do NOT want to interrupt it. But, that is EXACTLY what you are doing if you ice a sprained ankle.

Ice attempts to stop the inflammation as if it’s a bad thing. IT IS USUALLY NOT (unless of course, it causes serious medical complications or issues). You actually want the area to swell up after an injury. Why? Because it immobilizes and protects your injury and takes you to step 2 of the body’s healing process… THE REPAIR.

This is where your immune system sends in a flood of powerful immune cells to clean up and repair the damage from the injury. For example, your body will send in white blood cells called Macrophages, which literally gobble up debris from the injury to help you heal faster and better.

Plus, 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.

What this means that if you slow down or stop the body’s natural healing response, you will NOT trigger the immune response you NEED to heal your injury. By icing your ankle to help relieve the inflammation, you are actually ensuring that the inflammation will last MUCH, MUCH longer and your ankle will stay stiff, unstable and weak for a very long time.

“Seriously, do you honestly believe that your body’s natural inflammatory response is a mistake?”

Dr. Nick DiNubile, Editor in Chief, The Physician And Sports Medicine Journal.

So, icing has the cumulative effect of stopping or slowing your immune response, which can have a significant effect on how your body heals. Don’t believe me? Check out this recent study… The National Athletics Trainers Association found that ice was an over-simplified method and NOT effective at speeding up the healing process for a sprained ankle. (Journal of Athletic Training 2013;48(4):528–545, doi: 10.4085/1062-6050-48.4.02)

The inflammation process assists in healing. We don’t want to interrupt that.

-Tom Kaminski, the lead on the study.

Ice can do real damage

To make matters worse, ice doesn’t just stop the body’s natural healing response. It can actually cause nerve damage. As reported in the Journal of Athletic Training, researchers found that when muscle tissues cool from ice, blood vessels constrict and shut off the blood flow that brings in healing cells. After the ice is removed, the blood may then return, but the blood vessels may not open for many hours after the ice application.

The team found that this can cause the tissue to die due to lack of blood flow. It can also lead to temporary or permanent nerve damage and disability in the individual or athlete. (Malone T, Engelhardt D, Kirkpatrick J, Bassett F. Nerve injury in athletes caused by cryotherapy. J Athl Train. 1992; 27(3): 235–237.)

So, ice not only slows down, and in some cases, stops the body’s natural healing response, it can also cause nerve damage.

Instead of ice, do REHAB

Instead of ice and rest, do rehab. It’s that simple, A good ankle rehab program has consistently shown in studies to be the MOST effective way to heal a sprained ankle fully & fast.

HEM Ankle Rehab is a complete ankle healing system that works for any calf, ankle or foot injury. HEM will help you heal much faster and better than traditional strategies and ensures you will be able to move pain free while also significantly reducing the risk of future injury.

HEM dramatically improves the quality and speed of the healing process by supporting and improving the body’s natural response to an injury. You can expect a significant improvement in healthy range of motion in the ankles, feet and calves… you can expect much more strength and stability in the ankles… and you can expect improved overall movement (balance, agility, speed, jumping, etc.).

So, stop the ice and start the rehab. It is your best bet for healing an ankle injury fully and fast.

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