Why icing may not be your best bet for sore muscles…

We all know the acronym RICE (rest, ice, compression, elevation) but is that really the answer to all sore muscle pains? Research in Ireland is showing a different case. Most athletes or active persons involved in an injury or sore muscle issues will immediately place ice on the injury sight.

As a professional athlete who spends most of her time racing on a mountain bike or on skis, get bumps and bruises quite often and sometimes a sore shoulder from falling off my bike and hitting a tree or from completely annihilating myself off a ski jump while trying to do a 360 on skate skis. I have had my fair share of injuries, mostly muscle or bone bruising and I most often would ice the sore area…it made it feel better. And, one of my favorite activities are ice baths the night before a race. The feeling of the blood leaving my legs in the cold bath and then re-warming as I snuggle into some cozy sweats is wonderful. But, I’m not sure it is always the best idea to ice and then be active.

It is difficult with icing and research because there is really no way to do a “blind” test. You can’t blind people to whether they are receiving a therapy or a placebo, and people mostly know if their muscles are getting cold or not. Current research has indicated that icing significantly reduced muscle strength and power for up to 15 minutes after the icing had ended, and it also lessened fine motor coordination. Impaired limb proprioception was also a symptom from people in the study.

One idea for this decrease in performance and power is the ice reduces nerve conduction velocity. The impulses from the nerves are slowed down within the muscle and tendon fibers, thus decrease their seamless functionality. So, with impaired function the possibility of injury can rise.

So what’s the point here? Basically icing limits your muscular functionality for a limited time. So, if you are injured and you choose to numb the pain with ice…do not return to exercise after icing. Icing is great for acute injuries, just don’t go back to your workout. Chill out, hydrate and plan your next workout in your head!

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