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What are the benefits of using ice for recovery? I have heard that you should not use ice, if the goal is to recover faster.

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2 Answers 2

The jury is currently out, so the best answer right now is either "it depends" or "we don't know".

The common lore is that it does three things

  • Flushes waste items out of the muscles due to the restriction/release of the cold and then warming
  • Reduce swelling and tissue impacts
  • Slow down the post trauma metabolic effects.

Studies on the subject have been mixed. One study on cyclists doing stage races (high intensity efforts over several consecutive days) showed increased recovery and benefits, another study on weightlifters reported increased second day pain.

There hasn't been a conclusive study one way or the other yet, so what I would do is find any studies done on icing and your particular sport, and/or try it out yourself to see how it works for you.

My n=1 is that I used it quite extensively when rehabbing a ruptured Achille's, and it helped a lot with keeping swelling down and high mobility following sessions.

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The only studies I've seen not in support of icing injuries typically are inconclusive, but the other side of the coin is that there is documented and anecdotal evidence in favor. A 2001 study states:

It is concluded that ice is effective, but should be applied in repeated application of 10 minutes to be most effective, avoid side effects, and prevent possible further injury.

That's important, because "icing the injury" isn't simply about putting ice on it all the time. The current advice I operate under is to ice sprains and strains as much as you can in the first 48 hours after an injury, for roughly ten minutes (not exceeding 15), and re-applying after the area has achieved normal body temperature.

A lot of the studies I read seem to indicate that there simply aren't good double blind peer reviewed looks at cryotherapy.

The goal, as to your question, is to reduce inflammation and ease pain. As referenced by the NIH:

How Are Bursitis and Tendinitis Treated?

Treatment focuses on healing the injured bursa or tendon. The first step in treating both of these conditions is to reduce pain and inflammation with rest, compression, elevation, and anti-inflammatory medicines such as aspirin, naproxen, or ibuprofen. Ice may also be used in acute injuries, but most cases of bursitis or tendinitis are considered chronic, and ice is not helpful. When ice is needed, an ice pack can be applied to the affected area for 15 to 20 minutes every 4 to 6 hours for 3 to 5 days. Longer use of ice and a stretching program may be recommended by a health care provider.

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