Monday, December 13, 2010

The Healing Power of Ice

I often tell my clients that the best, non-pharmaceutical, way to treat their aches and pains is "ice it". For a number of reasons they are invariably resistant to this idea. When we were growing up, most of us were taught to apply heat to injuries and sore muscles. Using a cold treatment flies in the face of our intuiton. After all, heat is comforting and soothing. Conversely, cold makes us shiver and tense up.

Using ice or other type of cold pack to treat aches and pains is definitely counter intuitive but, it makes sense once you understand what's going on below the surface. Typically, what's causing your pain is some type of inflammation. When tissues in the body become inflamed they swell and take up more space which creates pressue and friction which translates to pain. Also, when there is inflammation there is usually increased fluid retention and blood flow in the affected area which generates heat.

So, how does cold help? Applying cold helps to cool down the area and reduce the swelling. Because the injured area is warmer than normal the cold actually feels soothing. Like relieving the heat of a fever or a hot flash, it feels good. The cold also causes that increased blood flow to the area to pull back a little. As the swelling reduces the friction in the tissue reduces, the pain reduces and you will find that you will begin to have greater range of motion. 15 to 20 minutes is all you need per treatment. Cold treatments can be done several times a day.

A great example in my own experience recently was when I overdid my biceps workout. My biceps were so sore I couldn't straighten my arms. After two or three days of this I realized it was not getting much better and I finally applied a cold pack. When I first put it on it felt like relief. I wasn't aware of extra heat in that area though I was very aware of the tightness and pain. While I had the cold pack on my arm I was able to fairly easily and almost painlessly straighten my arm. When I removed the cold my arm did start to tighten up again but, the next morning I noticed a big improvement in my level of pain and my range of motion. That was just one treatment. If I'd been smart and started the cold treatments on day one I'd probably be completely healed already.

One last thing about applying "ice". I actually never use ice. It's too messy and it's too easy to give yourself freezer burn. I have found that the various eye pillows and neck pillows filled with things like lavender or corn kernels work great. They sell a lot of these things for heating up and applying warm but I just throw them in the freezer and use them cold. They are super comfortable. They conform to your body. There's no melting, dripping, condensation and no freezer burn. Put them in plastic, Ziploc type, bags to keep them clean and keep them in the freezer so they're ready when you need them.

No comments:

Post a Comment