Self Maintenance: Our Friend the Ice Cube… Some powerful Medicine!
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Monday, November 16, 2009

Self Maintenance: Our Friend the Ice Cube… Some powerful Medicine!

by Cary Bland at 11:53 AM EST   comments
Categories: Training, Preparation, and Health, General

It comes up almost every day in my massage practice. Clients report having taken a spill on their bike, hurting their elbow, shoulder, or knee… or perhaps they twisted their ankle running on the horse trail. Maybe they hyper-extended their index finger trying to catch a baseball hurled at them by a playful kid on their son’s little league baseball team . Whatever the assault on their ailing bodies my question to them is usually the same: “Did you put ice on it? “

No matter what the insult, the body responds to trauma with the same generic inflammatory response, whether it is a cut, a snake bite, a blow to the body or a soft tissue strain. Fortunately, there is a low cost, readily available and very effective treatment for each and every one of these injuries… ICE. Yes, the humble ice cube is, perhaps, the single most effective tool one can use to battle common injuries.

Much of the time, when one sustains an injury, the accompanying inflammation turns out to be more troublesome than the initial injury itself ! The application of cold serves to limit the extent of the inflammation, and so, the overall injury. This is why it is so important to get ice on an injury A.S.A.P. I have had cuts or burns or sprains that I have literally been able to get ice on in a matter of 5 or 10 seconds that have not been much trouble at all! When I have not been so lucky to get ice on similar injuries, they have turned into major problems which were very debilitating.

There are a number of different methods of applying ice for therapeutic purposes. One can use an ice bag filled with ice cubes, paper cups filled with water and frozen, chemical gel packs, or plastic popsicle molds filled with water. My preferred method is the water popsicle, because it comes with it’s own handle so your fingers don’t get as cold when you are applying the ice.

I recommend using the ice massage technique, which involves applying the ice cube (or popsicle) in a circular motion directly to the injured spot. You “draw” circles on and around the affected area until the ice cube ( or popsicle) melts… and then you take another, and continue for between 5 and 10 minutes. This technique allows you to focus the cold in a direct and specific manner, exactly where it is needed. It is unlikely that you will apply the cold for too long with this particular technique – something that can sometimes happen if you plop an ice bag on your body and sit down in front of the TV. One can easily lose track of time with the “plop and sit ” technique and actually freeze the tissue receiving the cold application. This is especially so if one uses a chemical gel pack, which will tend to stay colder for longer than plain old ice. Gel packs are handy if you don’t have access to ice, but it is always best to use old fashioned ice. It is cheap and readily available, and it tends to melt before it will freeze your injured tissue – if you use the ice massage technique. Chalk one up for “simple is better”!

So, remember… if you are injured and there is inflammation present, cold will limit the extent of the inflammation and this usually results in a less severe injury. What I tell people is if they can’t remember whether to use heat or cold, it is always safe to use cold, but if there is inflammation present, heat will exacerbate the inflammation and most likely create more trouble.

One last thought…I have observed that many times people just are not disciplined enough to go to the effort to ice an injury as much as they should. If this sounds like you, let me suggest that when you take a shower, finish the shower with a few minutes of letting the cold water run on the injured area. This can be quite helpful, even though it is not quite as cold as applying ice to the same area. I call this “the lazy man’s ice application”, as it requires very little additional effort on the part of the lazy person. You’re in the shower already, you are wet already, you don’t have to go out of your way – come on … just turn that cold water on for a few minutes. You’ll be glad you did!

The author, Cary Bland, can be found icing his arms, shoulders ankles or fingers on a fairly regular basis in his home in Washington, DC . 

Cary Bland has been a massage therapist for 25 years and a competitive athlete for over 30 yrs.  Over the years, Cary has worked with a number of national level cycling teams including a stint at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs with the US National Cycling Team. He combines Sports Massage and Active Isolated Stretching with Neuromuscular Massage Therapy to help athletes overcome their soft tissue injuries and painful conditions. Visit his website at, or ask him a question here on VeloNation.


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