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Inflammation is an essential part of healing. From Wikipedia:

It has been further theorized that the acute localized inflammatory responses to muscular contraction during exercise [...] are a necessary precursor to muscle growth. As a response to muscular contractions, the acute inflammatory response initiates the breakdown and removal of damaged muscle tissue. Muscles can synthesize cytokines in response to contractions [...] These acute increases in cytokines, as a response to muscle contractions, help initiate the process of muscle repair and growth by activating satellite cells within the inflamed muscle. Satellite cells are crucial for skeletal muscle adaption to exercise. They contribute to hypertrophy by providing new myonuclei and repair damaged segments of mature myofibers for successful regeneration following injury- or exercise-induced muscle damage; high-level powerlifters can have up to 100% more satellite cells than untrained controls.

Now, why is icing your tendons and muscles after strenuous exercise beneficial? It certainly relieves pain, but does one lose some hypertrophy gains by not letting inflammation take its course, or does icing not actually reduce the immune response?

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Its not exactly an immune response, besides if you have micro-tears in your muscle, these have to heal anyway regardless of whether the inflammation is reduced. However, I fear there's no conclusive study about what the benefits of cooling is, else everyone would be doing it. –  Ivo Flipse Aug 16 '11 at 16:09
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Many (if not most) professional athletes are seen with tens of ice packs on their joints following every game as standard protocol. I'd like to know why. –  ash Aug 16 '11 at 18:24
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After strenuous exercise, ice is used to vasoconstrict the blood vessels that are leading to the area that is inflamed. This helps to slow the inflammatory response and will protect the area from further injury/inflammation. Ice only works for the first 24 hours, and it only needs to be used in a 20 minutes on and then 20 minutes off. After that, heat needs to be applied to vasodilate the vessels which will support the flow of oxygen rich blood to the area to help with healing of the strained area.

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Thank you for that. However, I'm still confused as to why someone would want to slow the inflammatory response if they accept the above premise -- that it is beneficial. –  ash Jan 24 at 5:39
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