Regardless of how we acquire them, injuries are never any fun. “You should put some ice on that” is almost always the first thing out of someone’s mouth when you mention that you’re hurting, but is it good advice? In this post, we’re going to talk about when it’s a good idea to use ice and when you should reach for some heat instead.
Please keep in mind that this is not a substitute for medical advice. While it’s always a good idea to educate yourself, checking in with your doctor – especially if your injury is interfering with your quality of life – isn’t a bad plan either.
Inflammation has had kind of a bad reputation for a few decades now. It kind of makes sense when you think about it – many conditions (such as diabetes, dementia, depression, skin issues, lung issues, etc.) are linked to it. Because we don’t want to get any of these conditions, we immediately ice our injuries and eat foods that are supposed to help keep inflammation down.
But here’s the thing, inflammation isn’t always a bad thing. In fact, it can sometimes be good. Assuming that you don’t have an infection, when it comes to acute injuries the swelling actually supports the healing process. You see, when inflammation is localized your blood vessels become leaky. Those leaky blood vessels allow your white blood cells to travel to the damaged area more quickly so that they can start healing you.
When we start icing our injuries or popping ibuprofen (and other anti-inflammatory medications) like Skittles, we reduce the access to our white blood cells and actually slow down the healing process. Additionally – and possibly worse – we restrict blood flow when we use ice. Our bodies need good blood flow so that they can 1)carry the waste away from the damaged area and 2)create new tissue. When we reduce our blood flow, our white blood cells can’t do their job and the ‘trash’ gets stuck there; your joints become sluggish, scar tissue forms, and we take longer to heal.
The long and short of it is that you should definitely go and get your injury checked out if it’s serious and/or you notice that it’s infected, swelling and fever are not only normal, they actually serve a purpose.
But if you shouldn’t be fighting the swelling with ice and anti-inflammatory medication, what should you be doing?
MEAT is Better Than RICE
It might sound like a slogan for a paleo diet, but it’s not. If you Google how to treat an acute injury, you’ll likely see the acronym RICE pop up immediately. RICE stands for rest, ice, compress, and elevate. Sounds like what you do, right? These things definitely help with pain and swelling, but they don’t really do anything in regards to the actual healing process but slow it down. As a matter of fact, the creator of RICE actually took back his advice once he realized that the method might delay healing and could even be dangerous.
Modern methods for acute injury treatment are actually becoming more like those of our ancestors, and a new acronym was born – MEAT.
MEAT stands for movement, exercise, analgesics, and treatment (like physical and/or massage therapy). Combining this new method with blood-moving herbs such as cayenne and ginger (which can be used in a compress) will increase circulation in the area and support active blood flow, bringing healing nutrients to the affected area.
Granted, some practitioners still use ice, they just use it in a very different way. By alternating between cold and hot on a schedule, they’re effectively bringing blood into the area for healing and sending it away so that they can take out the ‘trash’. Unless you’re under the supervision of a trained medical professional though, you should probably just stick with the MEAT method.
What’s the worst acute injury you’ve had to deal with and how did you treat it?