I’m going to preface this post with a warning: this is a heavily debated topic. When researching this post I knew the Chinese Medicine point of view but I wanted to have some research to back up my claims from a western perspective and the research I found was all over the place. So I’m going to do my best to break it down for you!
When I was in school I took a test in a class that I, admittedly, didn’t pay enough attention in. I knew I wanted to work with womens health and treating injuries just seemed so boring and straight forward. When I was called on to answer the question “When is it appropriate to use ice for an injury?” I wasn’t sweating the answer because I knew it. “Well, you use ice directly after you are injured and then heat follows. That is from the RICE (rest, ice, compression, elevation) method.” Imagine by shock when I was wrong- you apparently never use ice…EVER. In fact, Chinese Medicine has sometimes been taught to me like ice is the devil and you should avoid it at all costs.
From a Chinese Medicine perspective, ice prevents swelling and you want to allow the injury to swell up because the swelling allows a protective barrier to form around the injury and allows healing to take place.
It’s bringing blood flow to come and heal the area in a natural way. When you put ice on the area it helps reduce the swelling, therefore getting rid of that “protective barrier” and also slows the rush of blood flow to the area preventing the healing from taking place quickly.
When I went to research this from a western perspective I had a whole lot of conflicting results. I found studies that stated that “ice is no longer recommended because the reduction of inflammation may also delay healing.” While another study stated that “you don’t want too much swelling because it will cause more pain.” as well as that “no studies have shown ice would be harmful to healing.”
So what do you do? Personally, I believe you do what works best for you.
I like to wait out an injury until I’m ready to put heat on it and I never put any ice on any muscular pain. I was required to use ice after my hip surgery while I was in the hospital for two days and it did help numb the pain away but I also hated being cold. Having the ice on for long periods of time also made me stiff, while putting the heat on helped relax the muscles. That’s a personal thing though!
The same argument can also be applied to eating. In Chinese Medicine we believe everything should be cooked, warm or room temperature and we avoid ingesting overly cold and raw items. The thought process is that the body is meant to be warm and eating cold foods can slow down your digestion and delay the breakdown of nutrients from getting into your body. I’ve also heard the argument from the western side that you “burn more calories eating cold food because your body has to use energy (and burn calories) to warm it up.” I’ve seen people switch from eating salads to eating soups and notice a big difference in digestion and weight loss but I do believe that each person is different and what works for each person might be different. Until I see a reason otherwise, I will always do my best to avoid cold foods and I will always recommend warm nourishing foods to my patients (especially my fertility patients!). At the end of the day you have to trust your gut and do what feels right to you!