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Icing After Workouts or Injury

If you are a current patient, you are probably tired of hearing me say to ICE ICE ICE. But there are many reasons I constantly tell my patients to ice and recommend they ice after a treatment session. Research has shown that after a very new injury, the sooner (preferably between 15 and 45 minutes after an acute injury), the lesser amount of swelling that results. The ice’s properties will slow down the body’s metabolic process to allow a better and a quicker healing time.

Your body usually over-responds to injury because it can’t distinguish how bad the damage is initially and swelling ensues, trying to protect the area. The biggest point to note about swelling is that the more swelling there is, the more “cell-death” could take place. This is because the swelling puts pressure on healthy cells and cuts off necessary nutrients, as well as blood and oxygen. So, what would have been an injury that was about a centimeter in size could easily double or triple if the healthy cells die.

Other instances in which I tell people to ice are for chronic neck and low back strains. It’s the same concept as above; even if you have no visible swelling, that doesn’t mean there isn’t swelling lurking beneath the surface.

You should ice after a full day of sitting in poor posture, lifting, doing an activity that is new to you, or doing an activity that you have not performed in a while. Icing will allow your body to heal faster. So if you feel an ache or if you have a new injury, it’s probably best to start icing!

For those gym addicts: Those working out to the “NO PAIN—NO GAIN” mindset. Double DISLIKE! I hate to spoil it for you all, but this is unfortunately a common misconception. Here’s why: Our bodies tend to follow the General Adaption Syndrome (GAS). When introducing a new stressor like an exercise, our body will become stimulated. The body will respond in two ways: If it meets the appropriate stimulation and progress correctly, your muscles will get stronger and bigger or become more “toned.” However, if the stress is too much, it goes into the exhaustion phase which leads to breakdown.

Soreness is our body’s response to our muscles breaking down and trying to recover. It also means you likely have an inflammatory process (much like a blunt injury) that creates swelling in the area. Swelling has been shown to deactivate important muscles for stabilization of moving joints. If it persists for a couple days after, it is called Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness or (DOMS). In simple terms, if you don’t give yourself adequate rest and continue to break down too much of your muscle cells, this will eventually lead to injuries or the compensations of wrong muscle groups. If you are experiencing soreness, remember to ice several times a day, on and off for 20 minutes.

What’s that mean? For example, if you are trying to rehabilitate your shoulder with the mindset that you need to be sore in order to be working out correctly, you will likely see little or no progress. Make sure you seek advice for a recommended program from a fitness expert or Doctor of Physical Therapy who can design a program tailored for your level of fitness or rehab.

If you hired a fitness or health professional that promotes the “No Pain, No Gain” mentality — keep in mind what this is really doing to your body and consider finding someone more concerned and aware of the needs of your body.

Remember, we heal smarter, not harder.

Dr. Justin C. Lin

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