More than 30 years ago I coined the term RICE (Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation) for the acute treatment of athletic injuries. Now a study from the Cleveland Clinic shows that one of these recommendations, applying ice to reduce swelling, actually delays healing by preventing the body from releasing IGF-1 (Insulin-like Growth Factor-1), a hormone that helps heal damaged tissue (Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology, November 2010).
When germs get into your body, your immunity sends cells and proteins into the infected area to kill the germs. When muscles and other tissues are damaged, your immunity sends the same inflammatory cells to the damaged tissue to promote healing. The response to both infection and tissue damage is the same. Certain cells called macrophages rush to the damaged tissue to release IGF-1 which helps heal muscles.
Healing is delayed by cortisone-type drugs, nonsteroidal anti inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen, applying cold packs or ice, and anything else that blocks the immune response to injury. Now the treatments for an acute injury include Rest (stop exercising), Compression and Elevation (to reduce swelling), but no ice.