Reasons why icing may not improve healing!

Stephen Powers

Stephen Powers
Diet and Training Coach Extraordinaire

Reasons why icing may not improve healing!

It’s an almost universally accepted fact that any injury requires ice to reduce swelling, but is this the best approach to accelerate healing? Let’s take a look at the reasons why icing may not improve healing objectively.

At first glance, it would seem that a large, purple, swollen mass of tissue around an injury is a bad thing. Albeit a bizarre sight, the swelling can be critical to the healing process. After an acute injury such as a sprained ankle, the body attempts to repair, and replace, all of the damaged tissue. This generates a considerable amount of waste. The lymphatic system, responsible for removal of wastes throughout the body, can get backlogged with such a large amount of waste in a short period of time; hence, the swelling. To remove the waste, the lymphatic system requires the nearby muscles to send repair signals. If the muscle is too cold, the signals cannot be sent at an appropriate rate; thus, limiting the healing process.

Reasons Why Icing May Not Improve Healing

A recent fitness trend is taking hold in the industry in the form of whole body cryo-chamber therapies. In these sessions, your entire body is immersed in temperatures as low as -110°C (-166°F). These chambers are meant to reduce inflammation in the body, but can it be beneficial to speed up the recovery process and help stimulate growth in the body?

The short answer is, probably not. These chambers are meant to help correct chronic inflammation throughout the body, which can be a great thing if you are a tri-athlete or marathon runner. These sports can be very damaging to the entire body. Comparatively, sports like bodybuilding or power lifting tend to cause muscular inflammation only. To signal muscular growth and adaptation, the body needs a stimulus sent from the damaged muscle (look at that, I brought it full circle!). As we mentioned before, the muscle sends repair signals out to the rest of the body, and the repair process is what helps the muscle to grow and get stronger. If you are inhibiting this signaling process, you can greatly impede your ability to progress in your respective sport!

So, should we completely eliminate the cooling techniques? Not necessarily. If you find that your training has reached a concrete wall and no amount of stimulus will improve your goals, then a few sessions in a cryotherapy chamber might just do the trick; however, if you’re still making progress, you might just want to endure the discomfort and soreness. They made handrails next to toilets for a reason, use them!

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