For some, it’s almost instinctual to use ice when they get injured or whenever they are in pain. In the past, icing or cold therapy has been used to reduce pain and inflammation in muscles and joints. However, new research has suggested that we reconsider the traditional uses of cold therapy.
So when should we actually use cold therapy?
The truth about cold therapy
It is true that icing and cold therapy does reduce swelling when applied to an injured area. Traditionally, this was seen as an effective response to acute injuries, which is likely why you see athletic trainers and emergency response teams applying ice to athletes. However, research has shown that swelling is an essential part of the healing process, especially in the acute phases of the injury4. Thus icing can actually slow down the healing process and prevent essential parts of recovery.
In some cases, too much swelling or swelling that is prolonged can impede the recovery process in that it interferes with rehabilitation. An important aspect of treating musculoskeletal injuries is maintaining proper movement at the joint so that the range of motion is not permanently reduced. In cases in which the swelling at the joint is so severe and prolonged that it impedes proper movement, icing may be beneficial in reducing this swelling. However, this is usually only the case for more serious injuries such as severe joint sprains.
As new research suggests that icing can impede the recovery process, we cannot recommend using it on acute injuries.
When to use cold therapy
Although according to new research, we cannot recommend that cold therapy should be used to reduce swelling post-injury, it can still be used for some aspects of recovery. Studies have shown that the application of ice or a cold compress within 1h after a workout can be effective in reducing delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) within 24h post-exercise3. Research and anecdotal evidence have shown 20 minutes to be optimal for cold therapy post-exercise. Apart from just discomfort, DOMS can also affect range of motion, muscle recruitment, and force production in your muscles, therefore, impeding your training and performance2. Using cold therapy to reduce DOMS can therefore be beneficial for allowing consistent training.
It is important to consider that cold increases joint stiffness and reduces elasticity in the tissues which can increase risk of damage1. Be sure to warm up the muscles again at least to pre-cooling temperature before attempting any type of exercise. We recommend just saving the cold therapy for post-exercise recovery.
The new Sidekick Freeze Bands make cold compression therapy so much more convenient. This product wraps around almost any body part to cool the area while still allowing full range of motion so you can recovery without interfering with your daily activities.
We recommend using it for 20 minutes post-exercise to reduce soreness. Order yours today to upgrade your post-exercise recovery!
- ALACA, N., & Kablan, N. (2020). The acute effect of cold pack applied for different periods on the biomechanical properties of the rectus femoris muscle of healthy individuals: A Randomized Experimental Study. https://doi.org/10.21203/rs.3.rs-30726/v2
- Cheung, K., Hume, P., & Maxwell, L. (2003). Delayed onset muscle soreness : treatment strategies and performance factors. Sports medicine (Auckland, N.Z.), 33(2), 145–164. https://doi.org/10.2165/00007256-200333020-00005
- Wang, Y., Li, S., Zhang, Y., Chen, Y., Yan, F., Han, L., & Ma, Y. (2021). Heat and cold therapy reduce pain in patients with delayed onset MUSCLE SORENESS: A systematic review and meta-analysis of 32 randomized controlled trials. Physical Therapy in Sport, 48, 177–187. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ptsp.2021.01.004
- Wang, Z. R., & Ni, G. X. (2021). Is it time to put traditional cold therapy in rehabilitation of soft-tissue injuries out to pasture?. World journal of clinical cases, 9(17), 4116–4122. https://doi.org/10.12998/wjcc.v9.i17.4116
Ariana Purificati Fune
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