For years, one of the first people reach for when feeling soreness or inflammation has been ice. Icing down our muscles has been shown to bring down inflammation and soreness, but are we sure that this is our best option? In the world of health and fitness, which is constantly evolving due to new technology, new studies, and more experience, we must continuously question the things we think are helping us. The first thing we should question is, what is soreness and what is inflammation. Once we know what those two things are, we can begin to treat the true cause and recover more efficiently than ever.
What is Inflammation?
Inflammation is the swelling inside our muscles, caused by damage to the muscle cells. When you work out, run more sprints than you are used to, throw a high number of pitches, or just do anything that pushes your body, the result will be muscle damage. Once these muscles are damaged, they recover stronger to prevent future damage. Inflammation is the recovery process responsible for you getting stronger. The first phase of recovery is inflammation, a swelling within the muscle. Due to this swelling, more blood is sent to the injured muscle fibers, which brings in nutrients and builders to help the muscles recover. Inflammation causes an immune response to breakdown and remove any damaged fibers, and new nutrients and proteins build new fibers, only this time they are more resistant to damage.
What is soreness?
Muscle soreness is the tender feeling in the muscle. To aid the muscles in heeling, our body is letting us know that our muscles are injured and need to be protected to recover. Therefore, we get sore, purely to protect further damage from occurring while the body is trying to rebuild. If you continuously damage muscle fibers with no chance to recover, you will not get any benefit from training, and could lead to overuse injuries in the long term. Overuse injuries are highly avoidable, and most often caused by lack of recovery.
Should we use ice?
We now know that inflammation and soreness are a vital part of recovery, so we can come up with our conclusion. I am not going to say that ice is useless and has now place in recovery, but I will say it is highly conditional. If you are sore from the gym, and you are icing so you feel better, you would be better off without ice. Recovery is where your results are. You can train as much as you want, but without proper recovery, you will just spin your wheels. If you are sore and it is vitally important for you to compete in a competition within a day or two, ice could be a good option. In this scenario, you are not trying to improve your skills, you just need to go out and perform the next day.
In most cases, ice is overused, and inflammation is demonized. Inflammation is a powerful recovery tool by itself and using ice to decrease inflammation is robbing you of the improvement that will help your body handle whatever it is you do in the future. If you are in a competition and need to be recovered quickly for a game the next day, ice can play a role, as well as other recovery techniques.
BS Exercise Science