It all seems to make sense increasing circulation is good; restricting nutrient flow & shutting down the signals between muscles and nerves is bad. If you need to make something numb, ice is great if the short-term goal is pain control and the prevention of the body’s normal cellular and vascular response to injury.
The therapeutic use of cold produces many physiological effects. Ice is commonly accepted as the standard treatment in the management of acute injuries in order to inhibit inflammation. However, inflammation is a complex set of events that only becomes more complex when looking at the specific effects of cold on inflammation. Inflammation can be described by its vascular events, chemical events, and cellular events since acute icing affects all three of these. Vasoconstriction due to cold therapy counteracts the vascular events of inflammation, specifically vasodilation. Icing also affects the release of over 100 chemicals that mediate the inflammatory process through the chemical events of inflammation. Despite the effects of cold not being researched for most of these inflammatory chemicals, the release or activity of several of the key inflammatory chemicals is known to be inhibited as a result of icing. So why do we ice? Because ice helps numb the pain from the injury.
Vasodilation (the expansion of blood vessels) is a common effect in injuries such as sprains and can even occur to such an extent that the patient briefly faints due to a blood pressure drop. Ice causes vasoconstriction (the tightening of blood vessels) which reduces the effect vasodilation has. Vasoconstriction reduces the amount of blood lost internally by limiting blood flow and inhibits the forming of edema, reducing overall pressure on the affected area. Ice also has the obvious advantage of numbing the affected area, reducing the pain initially felt.
Note that RICE (Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation) is typical for first-aid scenarios. If a patient has ice applied and it does not help after the first 20 minutes of cooling down a physician should be consulted. This is also the reason for the ‘controversy’ surrounding ice: certain types of injury and mechanisms of injury do not respond well to ice and should be treated differently. A fracture or ligament tear for example will respond to ice by reducing pain and swelling but – for obvious reasons – cannot be treated by ice alone. Ice is not a magic bullet, it’s a guideline.
Ice for pain control, compress to avoid swelling!
Remember>>> If you are suffering from a foot or ankle injury, it is a good idea to see your local Podiatrist. If you are located in the Monmouth or Ocean County, visit our foot doctors at Affiliated Foot & Ankle Center, LLP. If this is a reoccurring injury your podiatrist may even suggest an orthotic that can help prevent from further injury.