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Massage Today
August, 2007, Vol. 07, Issue 08

Why Ice Is So Nice!

By John G. Louis, CMT

Nobody likes to put ice on his or her body; it's shocking and uncomfortable. However, ice therapy or cryotherapy is a vitally important modality in the immediate treatment and rehabilitation of acute soft-tissue injuries.

Unfortunately, there are many people who still are using heat treatment instead.

This all stemmed from research done in the 1950s and 1960s centered around changes in blood flow. Heat treatment increases blood flow and metabolism, leading clinicians to assume that heat would increase the rate of healing. The problem is that heat also increases inflammation in an acute condition, thus prolonging the healing process. It was not until the late 1960s when athletic trainers learned about this and began to change their philosophy to treating acute injuries using ice for the first 24 to 72 hours.

As quickly as possible after injury, ice is necessary to stop the bleeding, decrease pain and decrease muscle spasm. The results of recent research also strongly urge the use of compression to lower the tissue temperature more effectively in an acute injury. Treatments should be no longer than 30 minutes, 40 minutes for larger muscles. Treatments should be at least two hours apart.

For many years, I have successfully used ice massage with pro athletes, as well as with clients at my clinic. I am very fond of this technique because you can work the tissue while applying cryotherapy simultaneously. It also has the benefit of quickly numbing nerve receptors, and quickly reducing the discomfort. Ice massage stimulates the mechanoreceptors more completely than other forms of cryotherapy.

After treating the injury with ice packs and compression for the first 48 hours, I then switch to ice massage. I especially like using ice massage immediately prior to performing more traditional soft tissue therapy for rehabilitation. I can then work with an injury more confidently knowing that I already have reduced some of the irritation with the ice massage being applied beforehand. My ice massage treatments generally last about 10 minutes. The tissue cools a lot faster because it is being worked aggressively.

It's recommended that you work with the muscle fiber in a gliding or stripping action. If the treatment area is small, you might want to treat using a circular motion. I recommend wrapping a towel around the treatment area to soak up the water as the ice melts.


  • Kenneth L. Knight, Cryotherapy in Sports Injury Management, Human Kinetics, 1995.

Click here for previous articles by John G. Louis, CMT.


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