Icing for Pain and Injuries- Helpful or Harmful?: By BK Fit Rehab and Recovery Director Zach Haigney


Icing for Pain and Injuries- Helpful or Harmful?: By BK Fit Rehab and Recovery Director Zach Haigney

Even the most seasoned Cross Training Athletes, and anyone staying active, will likely encounter some aches and pains. The goal of the BK Fit Rehab & Recovery Lab is to help prevent injury, maintain pain-free movement and exercise, and educate our community on best practices to care for yourselves.

One question that many Athletes ask and is highly debated in sports medicine is “Should I use ice?”

The conventional wisdom of R.I.C.E. (Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation) is under intense scrutiny in the Sports Science community because it appears that icing an injured area while keeping it immobilized for too long may not be the best way to deal with injuries, and might make the injury worse.

Even Dr. Gary Mirkin, M.D., who coined the R.I.C.E. acronym is advising people to no longer heed his advice:

When I wrote my best-selling Sportsmedicine Book in 1978, I coined the term RICE (Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation) for the treatment of athletic injuries. Ice has been a standard treatment for injuries and sore muscles because it helps to relieve pain caused by injured tissue. Coaches have used my “RICE” guideline for decades, but now it appears that both Ice and complete Rest may delay healing, instead of helping.

A detailed account of the history of icing painful injuries and the research that is changing minds of Sports minded clinicians is Iced! The Illusionary Treatment Option. Author Gary Reinl leads readers through a detailed account of how we began using ice for the treatment of pain, swelling and inflammation and why we should stop.

So what should you do when you’re nursing an injury or just overall sore muscles?

You can still accelerate the healing time and reduce pain and get back to training, but you’ll want to use a different acronym, one that has all the ingredients for relieving pain and improving injury time and is completely original!

Although it doesn’t role off the tongue as well as RICE it will get the job done!


Protect – Respect the injury. Pain is not a “tissue damage meter” but a protective signal from the brain designed to tell you that you need to protect the area that hurts, so listen to your brain! Don’t go out of your way to induce pain or stress the area too much. Stay away from the nightclub, rabid animals and the Zombie Apocalypse. Avoid situations in which you’ll be forced to stress your injury.

Move – Immobilization is for broken bones and surgery recovery.

You’ll want to start activating muscles and movement around the site of injury slowly and carefully (See #1: Avoid painful movement) in order to allow lymphatic drainage and venous return to remove excess fluid from the injured area and supply the damaged tissue with the necessary cellular building blocks by improving blood flow. By moving naturally you’re giving your body the ideal condition to heal the tissue, restore normalcy and reduce the amount of scar tissue formation.

You’ll also want to begin loading the injured area sooner than we previously thought. For the first few days this could mean simply small range joint rotations or isometric contractions. But, eventually you want to use the injured tissue in a relatively normal way, this could be stretching, weight bearing, body weight exercises. They key is in balancing the P and the M (protection and movement). This is where a good Sports Therapist can be helpful and the real value of having the BK Fit Rehab & Recovery Lab at your disposal.

Rub It!  – Give yourself some love! It hurts, so show yourself you care. Applying a little bit of pressure, pinching, pressing, rubbing, stretching will initiate “descending inhibition” which is a fancy word for stopping pain. Keep in mind you want to protect the area, while still promoting circulation, neural drive to the involved muscles and tensioning to the local connective tissue. Simply rubbing an area that hurts activates the endogenous opioid release which helps pain but it also sends signals that keep the nerves in the area engaged and alert. Therapeutic massage, electroacupuncture and guided mobility are tools that we use at the Rehab & Recovery Lab to hasten healing.

Contrast Therapy – While direct ice and immobilization isn’t cool, you do want to employ what’s referred to as contrast therapy, which is basically alternating cold and hot. By using a cold compress for 5 or 10 minutes followed by heat for 5-10 minutes (all while moving the area as much as possible) you’re contracting and expanding the local vasculature so as to improve the local circulation. Again, you don’t want to immobilize the area but rather move, rotate, massage, etc. after you’ve completed a round of Contrast Therapy.

Water – Water is the nectar of life and most of us are in a state of chronic dehydration. When our tissues are not properly hydrated there will be slowing of the healing process. It’s like going down a waterslide without any water, you’ll get to the bottom, eventually, but it will be slower, less fun and a literal pain in the ass. Save your ass and drink water.

The BK Fit Rehab & Recovery Lab is for BK Fit Athletes to quickly resolve pain and injury, Recover from training and learn best practices to keep your body working for you. Email [email protected] to set up an appointment.