Ice or Heat for Acute Inflammation Treatment??

Inflammation Treatment

When injuries occur, even when they are minor and come from a sport we regularly play or just finished playing, we have been taught to apply:

  • Ice
  • Rest
  • Elevation
  • Compressive wrap
  • Take NSAID medication to reduce the swelling

After thinking this through however, two of these should surprisingly be off the list for most injuries and for the soreness that comes after playing sports.

Interested in learning more? Think about how we heal…..

First, there is an injury to bodily tissues – ankle sprain, swollen knee, sore shoulder.  Maybe this injury came from sudden action, and maybe it is the cumulative effect of a lot of smaller injuries (like shoulder pain after tennis). The body’s response is for the injured fibroblast cells that make up our torn fascia and ligaments to secrete inflammatory chemicals. These chemicals make the ankle swell, clean up the injured or dead tissue, and then bring rebuilding and healing.

Application of ice, and intake of NSAID medications slows this initial healing response.  Cold decreases blood flow and speed of metabolism. Research on recruits with ankle sprains and NSAID medication showed:

  • Injured ankles treated with NSAIDS got out of pain and back to activity faster BUT
  • Unfortunately, compared with injured ankles not treated with NSAIDs, the treated ankles were still unstable and uncomfortable 6 months later.

What to do?

I recommend moist heat after injury to increase circulation, increase metabolism, and draw greater and faster healing power to the sites of damage.  Almost NEVER take an NSAID medication – event the ones over the counter. Rest, compressive wrap, and elevation are still good ideas and will likely be helpful.

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