Is ice good or bad for injuries?

Injury rehabilitation is constantly adapting based on the latest research in medicine. The treatment method R.I.C.E (Rest, ice, compress, elevate) remains a popular treatment technique for sprains, strains and injuries that cause swelling. It is ingrained in the acute injury treatment process but is it on par with the latest research? Let’s find out.

The first documented evidence that ice was part of an acute injury protocol was in 1978 when the acronym was first coined. The intention behind the use of ice is to minimise the inflammatory response in an attempt to speed up healing. Since then, studies have shown that too much rest is not necessarily conducive to recovery but there is a medicinal consensus that ice does indeed act as an excellent pain reliever by lowering skin temperature.

Most people report that ice makes their injuries feel better, at least for a short time but what impact does immediate injury freezing have in the medium to long term? When we are injured, our body signals our inflammatory cells to release the hormone insulin-like growth factor IGF-1. These cells begin to heal by killing damaged tissue. By applying ice, it was believed by some that it delayed the start of the healing process. If ice delays healing, even though it may temporarily dull the pain, should we still be using it?

While the body may require some inflammation to recover, excessive or prolonged swelling is detrimental to the body. Excessive swelling puts unnecessary stress on tissues, restricts movement, and can increase pain and reduce muscle function. This is often seen in severe sprains when the swelling is significant enough to impede range of motion. In these cases, ice is a viable option, as the goal is not necessarily to prevent all swelling, but rather to limit the degree of swelling. So, in conclusion, ice still plays its part in the treatment of certain injuries.

In the circumstance of severe injuries in which swelling may become a limiting factor for recovery, ice is a helpful method of treatment in the early stages followed by encouraging patients to move around safely again as soon as it becomes practical.

If you’re suffering from an injury, get in touch with Physio Connect today to book an appointment with one of our specialist team.


0800 111 788


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Here at Physio Connect, everything that we do is built off the belief that all New Zealanders should have equal access to expert, specialised musculoskeletal services that utilise the latest clinical evidence and treatment protocols.


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