Roll an ankle, break a bone, get a bad jolt to your shoulder; one of the first responses is ice and anti-inflammatories right? While I’ll be one of the first to tell you that we are a culture bathing in inflammation and we need to make this stop, just as with all other bodily processes there is a time and a place, and a reason it exists in the first place. The problem is that we have endless things throughout the day that are causing enormous amounts of inflammation and this is what leads to the vast majority of our diseases. But what about when you sprain your ankle? Why do we want to get rid of the inflammation there? Let’s take a brief moment to look at what inflammation is.

When you get an injury, an infection, some kind of allergic reaction, the body needs to react to protect itself and fight the infection or repair the damage. Inflammation acts as both alarm bells and emergency services at the same time. The area becomes more bloated or swollen with interstitial fluids, it gets hotter, and loads of immune cells and rebuilder cells show up on the scene as appropriate. Supplies and these ‘workers’ come in, and then waste (like damaged cells being removed and destroyed) or toxins get pulled out of the area. Thus, the healing begins. If, however we sit down and stop moving, and start icing the area the healing stops in its tracks. “Inflammation can happen without healing, but healing cannot happen without inflammation.”

Straight off this seems like a pretty obviously bad idea! We delay the healing substantially and the only thing we get in return is a bit of temporary pain relief. This doesn’t sound like the best trade to me. Just like rolling the IT band or plantar fascia, you just address the symptom and not the problem at hand.

lymphatic system

The issue goes past just the repair of injuries as well. The mechanism behind our local inflammation is the lymphatic system. This is a circulatory system just like what our blood goes through, but this moves a lot of nutrients and liquid in, toxins and waste out, while also being a major part of our immune system. Some of our immune system is in the blood circulatory system, but much of it is in the lymphatic system. Cold slows down its ability to move, but the real crux of the issue is that the lymphatic system doesn’t have something to pump the fluid around like the heart. Instead it depends on the movements of our body and muscles to move fluids into, out of, and along its pathways. This is why it is so important to get moving here and there when you’re sick in order to help the immune system, just nothing strenuous. Instead a very light topical massage can help simulate this movement without having to use a joint or muscle you just injured. Some massage therapists are trained in lymphatic massages to help you do just this, with added benefits of detoxifying the body.

Icing and immobilization are definitely not the way to go. Use mild heat and light massage (just make sure not to rub open cuts or broken bones!) or you are simply putting a roadblock to healing.

For a lot more full information, take a look at one of the best rehab guys in the industry and his guest speaking on the issues behind why to ice, or not to ice:

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