General Question

rindosei's avatar

Why do people ice sprains, or, why do people counter the body's natural inflammatory response?

Asked by rindosei (12points) April 17th, 2007
Observing members: 0 Composing members: 0

8 Answers

rindosei's avatar
(Relatedly: is it useful to ice after exercising? Why?)
hannahsugs's avatar
As I understand it, the purpose of ice on a sprain or sore muscles is to reduce inflamantion, because inflamation is painful (and not necesarially helpful for a minor injury). Treating a sprain with ice has been shown to reduce recovery time, but I'm not sure what the biological reason for this is. Some people suggest using heat as well as ice, heat a few times a day to speed healing and ice a few times a day to reduce pain and inflamation.
nomtastic's avatar
this is an excellent question! i think it may have to do with getting ones body *out* of a positive feedback loop of inflammation - "teaching" it to take down swelling. you are, however, correct in that our bodies inflame to lessen mobility and allow healing, so icing only really works in combo with rest.
darwinsbulldog's avatar
Icing does indeed reduce inflammation. Some people say that it increases deep-tissue blood flow, which would bring more white blood cells and platelets and nutrients to the healing tissue. But more blood wouldn't necessarily reduce swelling. It turns out that there a lot of things that Western Medicine uses because they work well but nobody really knows why. Like aspirin.
Carol's avatar


Here is the absolutely correct answer:
Icing a sprain is an attempt to keep swelling to a minimum. Swelling hurts like a bitch. The icing should continue for several days unless you love pain. Sometimes if its your ankle, you will not be able to put on a shoe the following week or longer.

JoeCsekoBrainBuilder's avatar

Oh, well, here’s the absolutely correct answer. Sorry!

Icing does in fact reduce inflammation, as well as increasing blood flow. The body tries to counteract the chilling effect by pumping more blood into the area. With blood comes nutrients, as well as endorphins.

Twenty minutes of ice should ALWAYS be followed by twenty minutes of heat, then a minimum of one hour off.

Swelling hurts because of the pressure exerted on the already inflamed tissues around the nerves.

White blood cells are more involved in immune function, where red blood cells are actually the oxygen carrying cells (hemoglobin).
As far as counteracting the biological response of pain, that’s simple. Pain is a message to us that something is causing harm. This is NOT a message that goes directly to the brain first, but rather travelling through the simple reflex arc, only to the spinal cord and directly back to the muscles that cause a reaction.

So why circumvent the pain response after the fact? Because you already know that you’re injured! The area will still be vulnerable to new injury, ut you cannot completely circumvent the pain response with ice alone.

Umm, I thought everyone knew how and why aspirin worked for something like this. Not only is aspirin an analgesic, but it’s a blood thinner as well. It can actually aid in the breaking up of clotted or “trapped” blood so that the swelling can go down.

Tylenol (acetaminophen) is an antiprostaglandin, as well as an antipyretic.

Ibuprofen and naproxen sodium (Advil and Aleve respectively) are actually anti inflammatories. They are in fact better for treating such injuries, provided one is not on a daily aspirin regimen for heart disease..

So, there’s my two cents after 24 years of lifting weights and 7 years of full contact fighting. I’ve had an injury or two.

1234's avatar

Actually icing initially constricts local blood vessel, thereby decreasing blood flow and cell metabolism and decreasing swelling. After 20ish minutes of icing, local blood vessels do begin to slowly dilate (reactive vasodilation), but overall there is a reduction of local blood volume to the area.

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