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Runner Therapy: Ice, Ice Baby

Posted Aug 11 2010 7:07am

It never fails. My parents spent a boatload of money on my Duke Masters’ degree and yet they still question the education I got there. Inevitably someone in the family has gotten injured and Mom frantically wants to know, “It’s heat, right? Not ice?”

And for the 400th time I tell her no. It’s ice.

So why ice?

Ice is nature’s most natural anti-inflammatory. A new injury by definition has an inflammatory response. Once something starts to hurt, it is not long before tons of chemicals disperse and each plays a role in trying to repair the injury. In this reparation process, the blood vessels dilate to allow more white blood cells in to repair the site. However, in doing so, along comes the inflammatory mediators with a type of histamine response (similar to an allergic response). This is part of what causes swelling.

A good way to keep it from getting out of hand? Apply ice immediately. Ice is a natural vasoconstrictor so will help the area from accumulating swelling.

With an injury, ice as often as possible, 15-20 min. Skin should get pink, or feel very cold, not white. Make sure to thaw out the area before re-applying. Leaving ice on over night or for hours is actually not helpful, and some studies show that the vessels will actually dilate if left on too long.

If you get a new injury or something hurt during a run, be sure to put it on after the run for the same 15-20 min.

For those who want to avoid anti-inflammatories like Advil, Aleve and Motrin, make sure to ice as often as possible to get similar results.

So always remember, new injury equals ice! Pain equals ice! Inflammation or swelling equals ice!

- Marisa

(Marisa, MS PT SCS ATC, is a physical therapist in private practice in midtown NYC.  She one of a dozen or so therapists  in the state of NY to be board certified in sports.)

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