The Loop

Fitness Friday: Think twice before you use ice

August 15, 2014

The acronym RICE (rest, ice, compression, elevation) has been a prescription for treating soft-tissue injuries since the late 1970s. Golfers with sore knees, sprained ankles and elbow tendinitis know it well. But some health experts are starting to question whether the "I" should be included in the remedy. One of them is Dr. Gabe Mirkin, who coined the acronym in 1978's The Sports Medicine Book.


"Applying ice to injured tissue causes blood vessels near the injury to constrict and shut off the blood flow that brings in the healing cells of inflammation," Mirkin recently wrote in a research paper. Because blood vessels do not open for many hours after ice is applied, decreased blood flow can cause tissue damage or permanent impairment, he wrote. Inflammation, pain and swelling are part of the body's natural process to treat soft- tissue injuries and limit use of the injured area. If there's no swelling or pain, what's stopping you from doing further damage?

Instead of ice, many experts think the real accelerator in injury recovery is compression because it increases blood flow and healing agents to the area in need. That being said, there is still a place for ice in the treatment of minor bumps, bruises and soreness. Golf Digest fitness advisor Ben Shear (@ben_shear) says some people aren't willing to wait for "nature to take its course" and are looking for something to keep pain and swelling to a minimum so they can continue playing golf. They can always take a longer block of time to heal properly in the offseason, Shear says. Even Mirkin says ice is OK if used sparingly for short periods right after the injury occurs. "You could apply the ice for up to 10 minutes, remove it for 20 minutes, and repeat the 10-minute application once or twice," he wrote.

Ron Kaspriske is the fitness editor of Golf Digest.