Does Reducing Inflammation Promote Healing?

Does Reducing Inflammation Promote Healing?

Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation

Athletes at all levels will have heard of the RICE (Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation) method for treating an injury. The term was coined in 1978 by physician and former marathon runner Dr. Gabe Mirkin; the method was enthusiastically adopted by trainers, coaches, and healthcare providers and has become a standard in injury recovery. Recently, however, some have begun to question the method’s effectiveness. Specifically, does reducing inflammation promote healing, or slow it down? 

The RICE method centers on the fact that icing an injured area reduces swelling. It also numbs the area, reducing pain. While this approach was considered best practice for decades, recently the drawbacks and benefits of inflammation have been reevaluated. To understand the debate, the purpose of inflammation needs to be examined.  

What is inflammation?  

Inflammation occurs in response to illness or injury. When the body detects viruses, bacteria, or injured cells, the immune system sends out inflammatory cells to trap the bacteria or virus and start the healing process. The process causes the small blood vessels in the impacted area to widen and release more blood, with more inflammatory cells, to the area. It also results in the area becoming red, hot to the touch, or swollen. The hormones associated with the process also increase the pain signals being sent to the brain; the purpose is to make the person protect the injured or inflamed area.  

How does RICE address inflammation? 

Anyone who’s sprained an ankle understands that injuries can equal swelling and pain. The RICE method minimizes those symptoms. Rest means that the injured area isn’t experiencing more strain or pain. Longer periods of icing, compression, and elevation all reduce inflammation by limiting the amount of blood flow to the injured area. In the short term, the injured person gets relief from their symptoms. 

But reducing inflammation might not be as helpful for injury recovery in the long term. Reducing the blood flow to an injured area means that fewer inflammatory cells reach the damaged tissues, which delays the healing process. While you might feel better immediately, your injury isn’t getting the  necessary blood flow required to repair the damaged tissue.  

If RICE slows healing, what can you do to promote it? 

To answer this, we need to turn back to blood flow. Ensuring that an injury gets adequate blood flow to deliver inflammatory cells and begin the healing process is key. To accomplish this, you might consider incorporating movement into your recovery.  

Gentle stretching and light movement keep blood flowing to the injured area and prevents stiffening. This approach focuses on low-intensity activity that works the area through a range of motion. The purpose is to keep the area limber without causing additional pain.   

The lymphatic system and healing 

In addition to blood circulation, movement encourages the lymphatic system to drain excess fluid caused by inflammation. After blood and fluid flows to the injured area and inflammatory cells are released to protect and heal damaged tissues, the lymphatic system kicks in to move the leftover fluid out of the way.  

The lymphatic system closely resembles the vascular system; it’s a series of small tubes that run throughout the body. Its main purpose is to clear the body of excess fluid. Unlike the vascular system, however, it doesn’t have a powerful pump (the heart) to rely upon to move the fluid. That’s where exercise comes in.  

Movement acts as the pump, contracting muscles and tissues that force the excess fluid to move more easily back into the lymphatic vessels. This clears the area of excess fluid and toxins. Flushing this waste material allows fresh fluid and nutrients to enter the area and heal the injured tissue.  

Keep it moving! 

When it comes to moving blood into an injured area and flushing waste fluids out, movement is key. Light exercise and gentle stretching open up blood vessels, allowing increased flow, and pump fluids through the lymphatic system. Keeping the area mobile and performing small movements can promote healing after an injury. Of course, it’s important not to overdo it; ceasing any activities that are causing pain will help prevent further injury. A doctor or medical provider should be consulted if the injury persists for several days, can’t move or bear weight, or is excessively swollen. 

Ice can be nice 

Pain management is also important to injury recovery. Short periods of icing or using pain medications in balance with movement can help manage pain while allowing for a helpful amount of inflammation. Many athletes rely upon icing injuries to curtail pain during their recovery periods. If trying to combine icing with movement, however, problems can arise. 

Most traditional ice packs are stiff and overly cold. Instead of being flexible and molding to the injured area, they resemble bricks of ice, difficult to hold against an injured knee or elbow. They also get too cold, increasing the chance of constricting blood vessels and preventing the good inflammation that jump starts healing. Both of these problems make it very difficult to perform any kind of movement.  

Ice + Movement 

Ice Winder was designed with these problems in mind. It combines flexibility, dialed-in cold gel, and a hands-free design so that you can keep moving while healing. Ice Winder straps securely onto injured areas. It allows you to maintain full mobility, able to perform easy movements that keep blood flowing and the lymphatic system draining, while managing pain through an appropriate level of cold therapy.  

Check out how Ice Winder can fast-track your recovery!