Yes, it’s a question that has divided nations and torn families apart. In fact, I’m pretty sure this topic is what caused Tasmania to break itself off from the Australian mainland! Some will say: ice, ice baby; while others wouldn’t let ice in the same room as their injury.
Pro-icers claim ice reduces inflammation, which is often excessive and disrupts joint function. Anti-icers, ironically, also believe ice will reduce inflammation, but they feel that inflammation is a natural process needed for healing. So, the question we ask science today is: to ice, or not to ice?
A review of studies looking at the effects of ice on recovery from ACL surgery, found ice reduced pain at 48-hours post-surgery, but had little long term effect on function (1). Round one, anti-icers!
Another review paper looked at icing following total knee replacement. Icing post-surgery decreased blood loss in the short term and increased motion. However, after leaving hospital it had no meaningful effect on the injury (2). And the anti-icers take round two!
Okay, okay, okay I hear you saying I’m not going to get ACL surgery or a new knee, how on earth is this relevant to me? Well let’s look at a relevant injury. A review of studies assessing the results of icing post ankle sprain found ice to have limited to no impact on function following injury. Although, on a slightly positive note it does not appear detrimental and may decrease pain slightly in the period immediately following injury (3). Sorry again, pro-icers, the anti-icers take this one.
The consolation prize:
So the pro-icers won’t go home empty handed, here’s a silver medal, albeit a silver foil medal. Ice has been found to decrease DOMS (muscle soreness) slightly following exercise. Oh, but it won’t improve performance during training in the coming days (4). Damn naggit.
No. The stone cold science tells us that icing an injury has no significant effect on long-term function following an injury. It may provide slight pain relief and improve DOMS slightly, but that’s it. Nothing more, nothing less.
Our verdict: Unhealthful! Ever so slightly healthful for DOMS and short term pain.
I hope this has been healthful.