What does icing really do? Most people that live an active lifestyle are aware that cryotherapy (aka icing) is an important part of the recovery process. Injuries or ailments within the body can occur over time and its sort of just understood that icing is a good way to ‘get over’ these hang-ups. If you pull a muscle or roll an ankle, you just need to rest and ice, right? Well that might be part of the solution, but most people aren’t aware of the full extent of cryotherapy’s benefits and the numerous ways it can be utilized to maintain peak health and performance.
Often times when an injury or overwhelming soreness is prevalent, ice packs or an ice bath are the go-to prescription. This is because most people accept the fact that icing just makes the immediate pain go away, and then you’re able to get back to doing what you like to do. True, icing does reduce the overall amount of blood in the area it’s applied to, but only if done properly. Too short a duration of icing actually creates an immediate demand for increased blood flow, as the body is trying to battle the new source of cold upon the body. A healthy length of time for icing is typically no more than 15-20 minutes on a specific body part or overall ice bath (waist or chest high). Also, icing significantly longer than 20 minutes will have an adverse effect, and the body will respond with increased blood flow. The idea here is to reduce the swelling in an injured area, not increase blood flow.
Beyond pain management, though, why is cryotherapy such an invaluable piece of the recovery cycle? Yes, every time you administer a concentrated cold element to the body it reduces blood flow to that area, which reduces swelling (decreased pain). More importantly, when the ice is removed from the body and natural blood flow is restored, new blood is circulated and it brings fresh nutrients and white blood cells to the injured area. This is why consistent icing of a rolled ankle or other joint can actually help heal the area, not just make the pain go away for a short period of time.
For a practical application of cryotherapy, let’s take shin splints as an example. Take a few small dixie cups and fill them with water. Place them in the freezer and let them become 100% frozen. When going to ice your shins, take the dixie cups out and peel away at the paper so that you can administer the frozen water (still in the shape of the cup) on the ailing parts of the shin. Massage thoroughly for 15-20 minutes, and then let the body bring the area back to a normal temperature. This technique, along with proper stretching of the anterior tibialis, can help to greatly reduce the pain associated shin splints, while also healing them.
Fitmark Ambassador 2013