Ice: Have We Been Wrong This Whole Time?

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I love me some ice baths, and when I feel sore after practice, you’ll find me with an ice pack on my leg. But what if ice isn’t the savior we think it is? And worse, what if it’s actually a BAD IDEA?

I’ve been doing a lot of reading into sports injury books, and there seems to be a trend emerging that compression is better than ice. As someone who loves and advocates voodoo flossing, I can see why. That has been, hands down, the best recovery technique I’ve ever learned.

When I read this awesome post by Kelly Starrett of MobilityWOD, the wheels began turning and I’ve started to rethink ice. I love what he quoted in his article:

“Seriously, do you honestly believe that your body’s natural inflammatory response is a mistake?”

Icing chronically, as he points out, damages your lymphatic vessels, and reduces their ability to move lymph fluid out of injuries, and in fact, can actually cause more fluid to accumulate in the injured area. That means more swelling, and for longer.

For a chronic cold tubber like myself, this is a tough pill to swallow. I’m still going to investigate and experiment with my own routine. I’m lucky enough to have access to the MarcPro unit that KStar references (they’re extremely expensive, but for a hardcore athlete, worth every penny!), and of course, I voodoo floss like crazy. But I still think I’ll miss my ice.

What about you guys? Ice or no ice? Where do you fall in the great cold war?

  1. Dave says:

    I wonder if it could be similar to what happens when an autoimmune disorder overreacts to some stimulus new to modern times? For example, the body’s natural immune response is not necessarily “wrong” when it overreacts to gluten. The modern introduction of gluten to the diet simply confuses the natural response.

    During the time period when the body’s natural inflammatory response evolved, humans were lifting heavy stuff and doing hard work but they weren’t putting multiples of body weight overhead repeatedly in a very technical manner and then going back to do it again the next day.

    There is also the issue of the pro-inflammatory modern diet. A lot of athletes are downing calories in whatever cheap format they can find so their bodies are biased towards a constant state of over-inflammation.

    So maybe icing works because it is compensating for an excessive inflammatory response caused by a relatively unnatural movement pattern combined with an inflammatory modern diet?

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