Why do we have to ice immediately following an injury?

Now to get back to one of our most frequently asked questions…

Immediately after an injury, our bodies send healing compounds to the injured site. These compounds travel through our blood stream and are released with fluid, which results in swelling and inflammation. Some swelling in the injured area is good and allows for healing, however we want to avoid excessive swelling as it can interfere with the healing process.

As long as redness, heat and swelling are present and for at least the first 3 days after injury you should NOT heat. Heat and massage and aggressive stretching may inhibit the healing process and could even potentially cause more damage to already damaged tissue.

Unless you’re part of the 8.7% of the population that actually enjoys taking cold showers, the inflammatory stage of healing (redness, swelling, heat to touch and pain) is best treated with ice. This stage of the healing process can last anywhere from 2 to 7 days but is most significant in the first 48 hours after injury.

Ice limits swelling by reducing blood flow to the injured area. Keep in mind, though, that you should never leave ice on an injury for more than 15-20 minutes at a time. Longer exposure can damage your skin. The best rule is to apply cold compresses for 15 minutes and then leave them off for at least 20 minutes.

An easy way to remember this is RICE (rest, ice, compress and elevate) the injured body part.

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