Often after an injury we instinctively reach for an ice pack as we’ve been told that ice decreases swelling and helps with pain and healing. But is this actually the case? Let’s examine what the most current research is telling us, and protocols we should take after a recent injury.
A 2020 study by Dubois and Esculier suggests that ice and anti-inflammatories, although help with pain, can actually slow down our healing process (1). Swelling and inflammation are an important part of healing, they allow our blood cells to attend to the injured area and clean up unwanted debris caused by the injury, and dispose of it (2). If we apply ice to the injured area or take anti-inflammatories immediately after we’ve hurt ourselves, we can slow down and even delay the necessary clean-up process (Dubois & Esculier, 2020).
Therefore, the RICE (rest, ice compression, elevation) method might not be ideal following an acute injury. Instead, Dubois and Esculier (2020) proposed the P.E.A.C.E. & L.O.V.E. method which focuses on movement and strengthening. See the infographic below for more information (3):
Overall, evidence is showing us that swelling plays an important role in healing, so perhaps we shouldn’t rush to grab ice immediately after an injury. A structured and progressive exercise program prescribed by a health care professional is not only a great way to help with your recovery, but also to reduce the risk of re-injury!
-Hilary Veenstra, PT
- Dubois, B., & Esculier, J. F. (2020). Soft-tissue injuries simply need PEACE and LOVE. British journal of sports medicine, 54(2), 72–73. https://doi.org/10.1136/bjsports-2019-101253
- Koh, T. J., & DiPietro, L. A. (2011). Inflammation and wound healing: the role of the macrophage. Expert reviews in molecular medicine, 13, e23. https://doi.org/10.1017/S1462399411001943