Every runner knows about RICE. No, not the delicious carbohydrate that fuels our long runs; I’m talking about the ancient injury treatment acronym. R.I.C.E stands for Rest, Ice, Compress, and Elevate, but this week, the world is finally saying “no” to frozen peas.
The rather unfortunately named Dr. Gabe Mirkin coined the term R.I.C.E in 1978 but has since walked back his original recommendations. His bestselling Sportsmedicine Book has had everyone resting and icing for years, but now he’s singing a different tune.
“it appears that both Ice and complete rest may delay healing, instead of helping.” - Dr. Gabe Mirkin (2015)
In the last week, Dr. Gabe’s big retraction has gone viral, but research that rejects ice as an injury treatment technique has been around for a while. Over 20 scientific studies comparing injured athletes have shown no improvement in healing times for those who ice damaged muscles. It may even have a negative effect.
Inflammation is the body’s way of healing itself. When you’ve damaged or overstrained a muscle through vigorous exercise, the affected area sends a signal to your immune system. Your immune system then sends inflammatory cells, called macrophages, to the damaged site. Like a group of ants rebuilding a kicked over anthill, those macrophages pump the damaged area full of a rebuilding hormone called IGF-1. If you’re thinking “IDGAF about IGF-1,” here’s the simple version:
Why ice sucks:
- Cold reduces blood flow in the damaged area by constricting blood vessels #shrinkage This prevents the macrophages with their healing hormones from getting there easily.
- Cold prevents the body from releasing IGF-1 (this is very complicated but you can read more here if your science interest is extremely piqued)
Inflammation sounds bad like a bad thing, but to reduce inflammation is to reduce the body’s healing mechanism. Healing is good! Other anti-inflammatories like Vitamin-i (ibuprofen) can reduce pain in the short term, but may have negative effects on healing time.
So, what do we do when we think we have a muscle injury? First, it’s important to get evaluated by a medical professional if you think you’re properly injured. Then when you’re cleared to run again, begin slowly and emphasize building muscle strength through active recovery personalized to your needs. We happen to know an app for that…