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Decrease Acute Injury Inflammation Faster – Which is Better, 🔥 HEAT or ❄️ COLD?

I’m astonished that in 2020 there are still so many experts giving the antiquated bad advice to “ice” injuries right away to “decrease inflammation.” 

In modern medicine there seems to be a rampant belief that the human body is stupid, doesn’t know how to heal itself and its instincts must be overridden with our superior modern strategies. 

You can probably discern the primary point of today’s blog and video:

If I’m ever acutely injured and experiencing inflammation, I find it’s best to use HEAT or leave my body alone to heal itself. The last thing I want to do is ice that injury. 

My premise for health and healing is that our bodies are smarter than we are. They’ve evolved over tens of thousands of years to achieve incredible regenerative capacities that we too often override…to our detriment. 

Inflammation is a necessary stage in healing, because it isolates the injured area of the body to allow as much blood in as possible. Blood is a critical part of the healing process, containing many of the nutrients and properties our bones, joints, soft tissue and nerves need to heal and regrow themselves. 

If we ice an acute injury and decrease that regenerative inflammation process, we might have better range of motion and feel a little better in the short term, but we’ve robbed our body of the chance to get what it desperately needs while acutely injured in order to heal quickly. 

Not only that, but it’s my belief that inflammation serves another important function that is often overlooked: when necessary, inflammation during acute injury can serve to limit our range of motion. Why is that a good thing? Well, humans are rather selfish and arrogant, and if I can move better and my range of motion has increased, I might be tempted to move faster or in ways that put my body at greater risk of reinjury. So perhaps our bodies are wisely limiting our movements so we don’t do anything stupid. 

Recently I injured my knee and lower leg pretty badly in a violent twisting accident when I fell into a creek after seeing a black bear 30 feet away. My MCL ruptured, and it also appears that I ruptured my plantaris and medial gastrocnemius as well. 

My knee and calf swelled up enormously for a few days just after the injury. I wanted to help my body get the much needed blood flow for healing, but I also wanted to move in ways that would get the dead/toxic tissue out and flush my lymph system. So I applied HEAT to my knee and leg, which increased my range of motion and allowed me to move my foot to pump lymph from my feet back up and through my knee, flushing out some of the waste from my injured leg.  

I noticed that my overall knee inflammation decreased rapidly after that, and in its place the next day there was increased inflammation in some key areas in and around my knee. 

My body (I believe) was making sure the most injured areas were still getting blood, as well as making sure I didn’t do anything stupid by limiting my range of motion in key ways. 

We can help our bodies continue to move blood and lymph by doing fascia release through the whole affected limb (or the whole body, ideally). 

Areas of compensation can get the most fascially adhesed, which will decrease blood flow throughout the area. With my recent injury, my quad and quad tendons (around and under my kneecap), my IT Band, hamstrings and peroneals have all been the most fascially restricted from either compensation or protection contractions. Remember, fascia can contract independent of muscle tissue to protect us during an acute emergency. But then it needs our help to restore itself to a previous level of fluidity and health. 

Applying heat to an acute injury can ensure your body is getting the blood flow it needs, but you can take this much further with fascia release and gentle range of motion movements that pump blood and lymph to clear your body of toxic waste and ensure fresh oxygenated blood reaches your injury so it can heal itself. 

Human bodies are brilliantly designed. I’m sitting here typing this with a ruptured MCL, plantaris and possibly gastrocnemius, and as long as I keep blood flowing to my leg my body will REGROW these tendons and muscles! Isn’t that wild and incredible?

One caveat I’ll throw in here that I address in the video: I’m a huge fan of full body submersion in cold water or ice water, which does something totally different to the human body than icing one small injured area while leaving the rest of the body alone. Submersion in water (regardless of temperature) puts pressure on the whole body which increases blood flow. Submersion in ice can stimulate body-wide bloodflow (if you know what you’re doing and do this intelligently). 

If I had a sauna and cold plunge at my house I’d be all about it during this injury repair time. Unfortunately, I don’t. So I make do with using heat as needed, taking cold showers now and then and jumping in the river whenever possible (which is cold enough to stimulate circulation). 

Finally, I’m not the only one saying this. Kelly Starrett talks about this (as do many others). If you’re interested in his thoughts, click here to watch a video where he discusses icing acute injuries. 

Please share your thoughts below.

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  • Enos says:

    When were growing up in the 70s my grandma would use the hot wet towel method to decrease swelling. It was painful being applied but it sure worked. When started reading for ourselves we came across the “cold compress”. I guess my grandma was right after all.😁

  • Mearced says:

    Alisha this goes along with the whole concept of Prolotherapy. Check it out. My husband had Prolotherapy done on his shoulder instead of rotator cuff surgery and he’s surfing again, stronger than ever with full mobility. And he’s no spring chicken. The body is an AMAZING creation and knows how to regenerate properly. It sometimes get stuck in trauma loop to protect itself but if that’s dealt with, then full healing can take place.

  • kathnell oshea says:

    I trust my body and “inner voice” pertaining to me–we should all trust,listen to and follow our own inner guidance–no one knows me the way I do. Many thanks and be well–Kathnell

  • Natasha Aristov says:

    Don’t understand why there’s no comments here yet. But BOY, I DO believe that you are right on.

    I’ve had injuries and just been lazy about icing, and then feeling stupid about that. But those injuries were never problematic about healing. So in any case, NOT icing is not a problem and OF COURSE your body knows what to do.

    Hope your message gets spread around!

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