The same thing goes for taking non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen. Because they block the inflammatory cycle, they can limit the body’s natural process of healing itself.
Hays: I have not tried other methods. Though I have not seen much data on the effectiveness of ice baths, my own anecdotal evidence suggests that they are effective. One year at running camp in Colorado, we finished a run around Turquoise Lake near Leadville (elevation 10,152 feet). It was about a 14-mile run, fairly hilly and in the middle of July. When we finished we went down to the snow-fed lake (the water temperature must have been below 60) and soaked our legs. The next day I experienced very little soreness. Since then, I often soak after long runs, and always soak after completing a marathon. I find that I am able to return to my training faster and ramp up my miles again.
Are there exceptions? What about someone who has a minor, nagging injury, for example?
Gillanders: There are always exceptions. People are going to have pain, and ice makes them feel better. Ice can be good for muscles in spasm, or even as a security blanket, if someone has done it all his life.
Pain is usually a sign from the body that something is amiss. You can exercise through slight pain, say zero to three on a scale of 10, as long as it is stable. Pain above those levels usually results in compensations that lead to other problems.
If someone is taking care of himself, with regular stretching and appropriate strengthening, a hard workout is no big thing. In the clinic, I usually see people injured when their bodies are not prepared for the stress of training, Take care of the body and it will take care of itself. Humans did quite well for thousands of years without ice or heat, just the natural healing process, which included lots of movement.
Hays: The body’s natural response to an acute injury is inflammation, to protect the injured area. So to reduce the pain and swelling, I would recommend ice during the the first 24 hours. After that, though, it’s time to find the cause of the injury and see a sports therapist. I wouldn’t recommend trying to run through an acute sports injury by just icing after each run. You need to find the cause of the injury.
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What was I thinking . . .
When I agreed to rappel down a 15-story building as part of a fundraiser for the Special Olympics? I’ll let you know how it goes in a future column. More importantly, the organization needs people willing to do the same on May 3 to raise money for this important cause. If you’re interested, check out www.overtheedgeva.com.