There has been debate in the media recently about the effectiveness of icing after injury. Questions regarding the correct application of icing are also often posed in the clinic, so I thought we could chime in on the topic.
This is an exerpt from a research paper completed by our recent Kinesiology Co-Op student, Katherine (Katy) Moes:
"Cryotherapy, or the application of ice to an injured area, is a treatment commonly used by both clinicians and the general public. However, there has been some recent debate regarding the true efficacy of this treatment. The purpose of this report was to examine the relevant literature on this topic, working towards an evidence-based protocol for administering cryotherapy to individuals in a clinical setting. This report specifically examined cryotherapy as it pertains to members of the general adult population who have sustained acute soft-tissue injuries.
The literature reported that there is sound physiological theory explaining why cryotherapy may be effective. It may induce vasoconstriction, reducing blood flow to the area and thereby reducing swelling and edema. It also may reduce pain and muscle spasms. However, the literature did not show cryotherapy to have a significant effect on the healing process. The research also did not produce a consensus on the optimal frequency, duration or type of cryotherapy application.
Despite the lack of consensus and significant experimental findings, cryotherapy has been anecdotally shown to be effective. The best recommendation this project can offer is to apply ice to an injured area as soon as possible after the injury occurs, for sessions of 10-20 minutes with full re-warming time between sessions. In order to confidently state that cryotherapy has a significant effect on the rehabilitation of acute soft-tissue injuries, many more high-quality studies would be needed."
Take home? If icing helps reduce discomfort, by all means go ahead and apply it immediately after injury (10-20 minutes with complete warming between sessions for a maximum of 24 hours after injury)... just don't expect it to speed up your recovery!
Photo courtesy of wisegeek.com