You have probably heard of the RICE (Rest Ice Compression Elevation) protocol for injuries. Ice, in fact does not help the healing process and will likely delay healing and recovery from injuries. This is likely at odds with what you have been told throughout your life.
When an injury occurs inflammatory cells (white blood cells) will rush to the injury site which starts the healing process. These cells act to remove the damaged tissue cells. Concurrently, these cells release an anabolic hormone (IGF-1) into the surrounding area that starts the next phase of the healing process, muscle repair and regeneration.
Inflammation around the injury site will occur as a result of these processes and is an essential biological response that is extremely beneficial to muscle regeneration directly after an acute injury. When you ice an injury, the healing process is blunted as the ice reduces the inflammatory response and can delay the healing process. In addition to pausing the healing process, icing will also restrict blood flow to the surrounding healthy tissues which can lead to additional cellular damage.
Waste by-product of the damaged tissue is contained within the fluid at the injury site i.e. inflammation. Your body naturally removes this fluid through the lymphatic system. Swelling will only become a problem if it is allowed to accumulate for too long.
In order to facilitate the evacuation of swelling you need to turn on your lymphatic system. As the lymphatic system is passive, it means you have to move to make it work. However, doing too much movement or loading the injury too much may make the injury worse. Exercises that can be performed in a relatively pain free manner should be undertaken in order to remove the damaged cells from the injury site. This can even be done by performing isometric muscle contractions (tensing a muscle without joint movement).
Icing an injured or sore body part will likely decrease the pain sensation that you are experiencing however this comes at the expense the healing process. We should be aiming to facilitate by allowing the white blood cells in and removing the damaged cells through movement.*Disclaimer: Individual results vary based on agreed goals. Click here for details.