Ice is For Dead People

injury recovery ice

Note: this is a re-post of a blog I wrote for Twin Town CrossFit a while back. I thought now would be a good time to re-post it since the weather is getting warmer and more outdoor sports will soon be getting underway.

"Ice is for dead people."

That’s the old Chinese adage that first came to mind when I read a recent blog post on injuries. Traditional Chinese medicine has known for centuries that ice is detrimental to healing injured tissue, and now it seems that some western MD’s might be coming around to the same conclusion.

Ice is great at preserving things in a fixed state.

Ice is great for keeping my meat CSA fresh throughout the winter, but you’ll never find me icing my shoulder after one too many pull-ups.

In Chinese medicine, there is an underlying idea that pain is generally due to an obstruction (of blood, lymph fluid, energy, etc) and that by removing the obstruction and bringing free flow to the area, the pain will be resolved. Ice has a natural tendency to slow things down to a standstill – including blood and fluids. Therefore, icing an injury will contract and congeal the blood and tissue in the affected area – producing a more permanent obstruction that is harder to disperse later.

So, what does Traditional Chinese Medicine say you can and should do after an injury?

Tom Bisio’s book on healing injuries with Chinese medicine, A Tooth From the Tiger’s Mouth, has a great list and here are a few of my favorites:

  1. Bleeding the local area to draw out and disperse blood and fluid that is coagulating and blocking circulation. While this will often reduce pain immediately, I do NOT suggest bleeding yourself at the gym (not at all sanitary and might gross out your fellow gym-goers). Go see a licensed acupuncturist as soon as possible for treatment.

  2. Self massage with topical herbal linaments that help move the blood to reduce inflammation and relieve pain. Zheng Gu Shui and Arnica gel are two of my favorites and both are sold at our clinic as well as many local co-ops.

  3. Chinese herbs can be taken orally to promote blood circulation and stop pain. These can be incredibly effective, but please consult a board certified Chinese herbalist before taking any Chinese herbs.


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