Coping with Stress – Part 1

We all suffer with stress and it’s becoming a growing problem where people struggle to cope and burnout. Stress impacts my patients on a number of levels, mainly with pain perception. When under control we have better recoveries from injury.

The Greatest weapon against stress is our ability to choose one thought over another.

Everyone can recognise stress in their daily life. Some people seem to have more stress than others, or is it simply their reaction to events that creates stress? What is stress? And why is a physio talking about stress?

What is stress?

Fight or flight is stress at its very basic. It’s an important mechanism our brain has to cope and be ready for any perceived threat. This causes many bodily changes to prepare us for action, such as increased neural activity, muscle tone, heart rate, breathing pattern disrupted sleep etc. But stress is also emotional and responds with the same physical response. There are two forms of stress positive and negative. It helps to have a balance of both to make logical decisions.

Positive: It can motivate us into action and achieve our goals.

Negative: Too much causes anxiety and other health issues.

There are many forms of emotional stress. Everyone manages stress differently, making it easier for some people to cope with than others. Below are the leading causes of negative stress.

  • Workplace environment, too many emails, phone calls, long hours
  • Divorce/breakups/relationship difficulties
  • Demands of family/children (sleep patterns, household duties, balancing activities)
  • Car accidents. Being stuck in traffic
  • Theft, burglary, loss of personal property
  • Loss of employment or business
  • Death of a family member or close friend
  • Cash flow problems
  • Poor academic performance/work overload

How can stress impact my injury?

When we’re injured we have the mechanical pain from the damaged structures. But carrying negative stress causes increased sensitivity of our pain receptors and decreases the inhibitory interneurones in the central nervous system that regulate how much pain we feel (1,2). If we find ways to channel our stress better the pains we feel from injury become more tolerable.

  1. Donello et al, (2011) A peripheral adrenoceptor-mediated sympathetic mechanism can transform stress-induced analgesia into hyperalgesia.
  2. Corcoran et al, (2015) The Role of the Brain’s Endocannabinoid System in Pain and Its Modulation by Stress.

What’s wrong with my knee?

Knee injuries are very common during sport and at work. For a faster recovery see your Dr or Physio to understand what structure you have damaged and how to rehab the injury effectively.

A knee sprain managed correctly will allow the tissue to heal fast and strong. Getting you back into what you enjoy most.

The knee is one of the most common joints injured in the body. A joint that absorbs a huge amount of force when running, jumping and lifting. Fortunately the femur and tibia are surrounded by many structures, but it’s usually these supporting structures that take the stress when we have an injury.

What could I have damaged?

Ligaments: About 40% of injuries to the knee involve ligaments either by a sprain or tear. These structures help give extra stability to the knee. When it has been put under excessive tension it damages the fibers. This results in pain, swelling and instability.Ligament injury knee

Patellofemoral: 24% of injuries are involving the knee cap. The patella sits within a small channel and if not guided correctly from surrounding muscles and ligaments pain can develop. This becomes particularly sore when squating, running and even basic functions like climbing stairs and sitting.Patella dysfunction

Meniscus:  11% involve the meniscus. It is fibrocartilage that sits within the knee, providing a level of stability to the ligaments and an element of shock absorption when weight bearing. This can cause a lot of swelling, pain and restrictions. In some cases the knee may lock in certain positions.

Knee injury meniscus

Other Injuries: The remaining 25% consists of fractures to knee, dislocation of the patella, Iliotibial band syndrome, hamstring and quads strains/tears etc.

What to do if I’ve injured my knee?

Firstly if you’ve just injured your knee and struggling with weight-bearing seek medical attention, where a Dr may consider an Xray, prescribe medication and will likely refer you to a physiotherapist. If the symptoms are not too severe, but you’re still concerned, come straight to physio. At Fundamental Physio Newmarket I can provide you with the following:

  • A detailed assessment of your knee using a range of tests to identify the structures involved, also looking at the mechanics of the hip and ankle.
  • Manual therapy to encourage normal movement and faster rate of healing.
  • A personalised exercise program for your identified weakness’. This may involve strength exercises, stretches and balance exercises.
  • Biomechanical assessment and correcting movement dysfunctions that may delay your recovery.
  • Providing you with an understanding of the structures affected and a treatment plan to meet your overall goals.
  • If recovery is slower than expected referrals can be made for Xrays/scans to sports or orthopaedic specialist.

Fundamental Physio Newmarket is supported by ACC. If you have hurt the knee during an accident, whether it was at home, work or on the sports field you will receive treatment cover for the injury.

For an appointment, call on 095290990 

Improving press position

The final part to the 4 shoulder positions that give us stability. The press position is used in so many ways, failing to find a good press shape can produce poor results and pose a risk to injury.

This is the final part of the 4 shoulder shapes we should all be able to achieve. Creating these shapes provides more efficient transitions when under load, making it easier and posing less risk to the shoulder.

So we’ve opened up the over head, front rack and hang shape. The last position is a press. Think of so many positions, bench press, rowing, burpee, chest to bar pull up, muscle up, ring dip….. If we create a poor, unstable position from this point it will make the movement much more difficult.

With the press we need to achieve full shoulder extension without the elbows flaring. Rarely do we get full extension in the shoulder. Even when sat at a desk typing were put in a perfect opportunity to hold the press position, but we get too flexed through the spine and the keyboard is placed to far away.

The other movement is internal rotation, which was part of our hang position. Good internal rotation at the shoulder will stop the elbows from flaring.

The last part being the lack of mobility of our lower cervical and upper thoracic spine. Which when stiff takes us into a rounded shoulder position. Trying to mobilise this area will help improve shoulder and head position.

Below are a series of mobility exercises to help with these directions.


Barbell hold – With the bar racked up to shoulder level and secure in the rack. Reach back with both hands, hold onto the bar and gentle lean forwards till you feel a stretch in the front of the chest and shoulders. Hold for 2 minutes. Gradually work your hands closer together.

Peanut lower cervical – This one you’ll have to get hold of a peanut (two lacrosse balls stuck together). Place the peanut at the base of the neck. Lift the hips to the ceiling. Some gentle rocking or arm movements through flexion or behind the back will help mobilise this point. 2 minutes

Lats smash with LaX ball – Take the ball under the arm pit into the meaty portion at the back, which is your lats. Roll into the lats with the arm in over head position lying on your side. 2 minutes.

Band hold – The other alternative to the bar hold is a band hold. Same position but hold the band behind you. Hold the stretch for 2 minutes.

CrossFit – How can Physio help?

CrossFit has its share of injuries like any sport. An experienced physio with knowledge of the training can get an athlete functioning pain free quickly and performing back to their best.

To perform at your best you need a strong mindset, great coaching staff that are strict with your technique and an experienced physio to prevent aches and pains

Most Kiwi’s are pretty tough, with a ‘she’ll be right” mentality when it comes to injury. You’d think that would be a perfect combination with the image CrossFit portrays. But when you’ve been carrying that niggle for so long and it starts getting worse, it could shut you down completely from training.

Physio and CrossFit work well together

Physio’s are specialists in movement analysis and CrossFit itself is a training regime that goes through gross fundamental movement patterns. So putting yourself through these movements and identifying your weakness’ gives me a lot more insight into where your problem could be coming from.

What are the common complaints?

There have been interesting studies done over the last few years into injuries within CrossFit. Interestingly the studies correlated similar with the same common areas being involved:

  • Shoulder
  • Lower back
  • Knee

Some injuries being severe enough to stop some from working, training and competing. These are the most common areas of injury I see come into the clinic from CrossFit, but I also see others suffering from:

  • Neck and thoracic strains
  • Ankle sprains and hypomobility
  • Hip impingement
  • Patella dysfunction from quad heavy squats
  • Wrist strains

How can Physiotherapy help?

As a physio it’s my job to get you functioning pain free as quickly as possible. Being a Crossfitter myself, who performs daily and understands the training styles, philosophy and terminology I can relate to the frustrations that you may face with limitations in training. Also working on site I can take you into the gym, look at techniques of different movements and provide you with additional drills to perform before your WOD.

What do I offer a CrossFit athlete?

  • An assessment of your movement patterns looking for weakness, asymmetry and any underlying mobility issues.
  • Hands on therapy for immediate pain relief, this may involve soft tissue massage, joint mobilisations and dry needling.
  • Localised taping of problem areas to assist you during your next training session
  • Diagnosis and ongoing management for acute or severe injuries, including referrals for further tests such as x-rays/ultrasounds, scans or to a specialist.
  • Educating you on what caused your injury or pain and steps to prevent further problems.
  • A personalised rehabilitation program – listing corrective, strengthening and stretching exercises to assist your recovery.
  • Liaising with and providing regular updates of your progress directly to your coach or trainer to ensure you get a coordinated approach to your rehabilitation. This also ensures that you are scaling or modifying WOD’s as required.

For an appointment, call on 095290990 

Montalvo et al (2017) Retrospective Injury Epidemiology and Risk Factors for Injury in CrossFit. Journal of Sports Science and Medicine

Keogh et al (2016) The Epidemiology of Injuries Across the Weight-Training Sports. Sports Medicine

Weisenthal et al (2014) Injury rate and patterns among CrossFit athletes. Journal of Orthopaedic Sports Medicine, Arthroscopy, and Knee Athroplasty

Improving front rack position

Improving the front rack position can help us in so many movements. This page shows a number of stretches that will improve shoulder mobility. and help prevent injury.

This is the second part of the shoulder, expanding on a previous post about 4 important shoulder positions that we should all be aiming to achieve. It’s quite important that you can find these positions comfortably, especially under load, as it will help to limit the risk of injury but also make it easier for you to transition out of it.

So, we’re all now great with our over head position. Can you now transition back down to a front rack? à la thrusters, hand stand push ups or catching the wall ball into the squat. Front rack is the most complexed out of the 4 positions as there are so many structures feeding into that position.

With Front rack most of us struggle with finding that shoulder external rotation to get the hands outside of the shoulders while keeping the elbows high. This helps line the hands into a stable platform for the bar.

The forearms are often tight making it hard for the wrists to fully extend. How many of us get achy wrists after front squats? Create that stable platform with good wrist extension.

Our triceps can also restrict the elbow from going into full flexion. And finally good Thoracic mobility as mentioned in the over head position. It will impact achieving extension and getting the maximum lift through the elbows.

Below are a series of mobility exercises to improve that Front Rack position.


Stick external rotation stretch – Grab a stick, hold it outside the arm. Lift your elbow and pull the stick from underneath your arm, across the body. This will pull your hand out further and you will feel the shoulder wind up. Hold for 1 minute. To take this further by repeating a hold-relax method, pulling the stick inwards for 5 seconds then relaxing further into external rotation .

Banded External rotation – Put the elbow into the band, take the hand on the inside of the band and hold on. Keep the elbow close to your head and drive the arm pit forwards. Hold the stretch for 2 minutes.

Wrist Flexor stretch – Kneeling on the floor, with palms facing away, put your hands down on the floor and take the wrists into extension, moving your body backwards. Hold for 2 minutes. Next get the band and place the hand in the same position. Have the band pull away while doing small oscillating wrist extensions into the stretch. Repeat for 1-2 minutes.

Triceps smash – Excuse the facial expressions in this video, I don’t always look that way! Resting the tricep on the bar while flexing and extending the elbow. Start at the triceps tendon (above the elbow) repeat 10-12 reps then move higher up the muscle. To increase the pain….I mean load, use the band to get fascia tacked down to the bar.

Thoracic Mobility as mentioned above it’s important to extend at the Thoracic below are two basics.

Improving overhead position

Often we are restricted with overhead movements as it is an action we don’t use often enough. Try these exercises to increase movement if your tight reaching above your head.

So from the last blog we’ve learnt there are 4 positions of high torque when we wind up the shoulder capsule and surrounding muscles. By utilising these positions they will produce better pathways to move from and minimise the risk of injury.

We’ll start off with the over head positions. In every day life we don’t take our hands above our shoulders often enough. It’s understandable the shoulder will feel tight in these positions. But with a little regular mobilising we should be able to feel more comfortable holding our arms up there.

In the shoulder we have big internal rotators and some small external rotators which can cause a bit of an imbalance. Both internal and external rotation needs to be stretched to achieve full over head movement.

The other thing restricting our overhead movements is thoracic mobility. Another area that often gets stiff with a sedentary life. Additional extension at the Thoracic region without hyper extending at the lower back will give us better shoulder flexion.

Below are some basic mobility drills to improve Thoracic extension.

Foam Roller – Slowly moving over the foam roller, trying to extend over the top, keeping steady breathing throughout. Try to keep the neck in a stable position avoiding hyper-extending, also avoid rolling into the Lumbar spine.  Try this for up to 2 minutes. Once you find some stiffness, stay on that point and lift your arms straight above your head. 1 minute.

https://www.instagram.com/p/BT2yyupFzCP/?taken-by=fundamentalphysio

T spine extension – Kneeling, put both elbows up on the step/box. Drop the chest down to the ground. Feeling a stretch at the Thoracic spine and lats. Hold the stretch for 2 minutes. Try to stay strong at the lumbar spine avoiding extending.

https://www.instagram.com/p/BT2zxQgFaYu/?taken-by=fundamentalphysio

Below are just some stretches you can do to access both the internal and external rotation restrictions at the shoulder.

Pec major stretch – Using a resistance band, taking up the slack with the hand behind, turn your body away, producing a large stretch in the chest. Hold for 2 minutes.

https://www.instagram.com/p/BT20WulFJyD/?taken-by=fundamentalphysio

Under arm stretch – Attach a light resistance band to the opposite frame. Hold the other end with your hand behind the neck, pull into the opposite rack and drive the armpit into the poll. You’ll get a good triceps and lats stretch. 2 minutes.

https://www.instagram.com/p/BT20x4YFGYp/?taken-by=fundamentalphysio

Infraspinatus LaX ball smash – Direct the ball into the shoulder blade. With the pressure, take the hand across the body and over head. 1 minute each direction.

Trigger points – what are they?

Trigger points are the most common source of muscle pain. There are many factors that affect a trigger point and for best results they should all be identified.

I’m going to put a wild bet out there that everyone has a trigger point in at least one muscle of their body. Some have more than others. Who of you are regularly rubbing their shoulders or elbows? More and more we are sitting at the computer or looking down at our phones (sorry for writing this blog) causing prolonged tension on muscles around the neck and shoulder, resulting in the development of trigger points.

What is a Trigger point?

It is defined as a hypersensitive palpable nodule in taut bands of muscle fibers. Meaning very small bundles of muscle fiber have become contracted/”knotted” due to a chemical imbalance within the tissue.  The area is very painful and can cause you to jump or cramp on palpation. It can cause referred pain, weakness and restriction through movement. Which makes doing normal activities and training difficult.

Triger Point diagram
Diagram of trigger points within a muscle

Trigger points of individual muscles have a very specific referred pain pattern and can mimic other problems. For example pain in the forearm and wrist can be referred from Infraspinatus, a shoulder muscle. Without a detailed assessment and clearing other areas this could be misconceived as a tennis elbow.

What causes a trigger point?

A TP can be brought on in a number of ways. 

  • Poor postures held for a prolonged period, causing certain muscles to work harder while trying to support structures like the head, eventually causing TP’s.
  • Repetitive strain on muscles from overuse over multiple days, weeks and months. How many clicks of the mouse or typing are your doing? How much swiping of the smartphone? These repetitive movements take their toll.
  • Emotional stress and poor sleep can cause muscle tension. Particularly the neck and shoulder muscles.
  • A lack of movement will develop TP’s when sitting or on bed rest for a prolonged time.
  • Heavy lifting can cause the development of TP’s when the muscle is placed under excessive loads which it is not familiar with.
  • Trauma to a muscle, either as a reflex to pain or overcompensating for the weak and injured structure. This is quite common with car accidents or sports injuries.

Our muscles sit within a biochemical “soup” of  hormones, nerve transmitters and chemicals, all affecting the PH and Oxygen levels of the tissue. Your body knows the perfect recipe to keep everything balanced, but when we overload it with one or more of the above, it causes changes to the recipe, resulting in a drop in PH (becoming more acidic) and reduces the oxygen supply. This leads to the development of TP’s.

How do we treat a trigger point?

Your desire to change must be greater than your desire to stay the same. 

The following treatments for trigger points will help settle them down, but if we provide the same environment they will return.

  • Trigger point release – sustained manual pressure applied to the trigger point causes increased blood flow to remove toxins from the area, interrupts the pattern of pain and spasm and encourages the production of natural pain relieving endorphin’s.
  • Trigger point dry needling – There is a growing evidence base for trigger point dry needling. The needling causes local twitch responses which are a central nervous system reflex. This helps disrupt the pain feedback loop but also reset the acidic biochemical “soup” the muscle is sitting in, back to its normal levels.
  • Myofascial release – the surrounding tight myofascial tissue that feeds into and over the trigger points could also be restricted, causing further exacerbation of the area. Using this technique will give some length back to these structures and can alleviate the trigger point.

Once the hands on therapy has been applied it is not the end of treatment. The muscles with the TP’s will need to be stretched to help prevent their return. Postural correction and stability exercises for surrounding muscles may need to be followed. Changes ergonomically may need to be enforced to prevent falling back into poor habits. Also looking at ways of alleviating stress through improved sleep, meditation, breathing techniques and increase of general exercise.

All of these factors will need to be considered to provide long lasting benefit and avoid their return.

  1. Travell & Simon (1999). Myofascial Pain and Dysfunction: The Trigger Point Manual
  2. Shah et al (2008) Uncovering the biochemical milieu of myofascial trigger points using in vivo microdialysis: An application of muscle pain concepts to myofascial pain syndrome. Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies
  3. Simons, (2008), New Views of Myofascial Trigger Points: Etiology and Diagnosis, Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation

Does your shoulder get the green light?

Are you able to achieve full shoulder range and move efficiently with speed and load. Essential to preventing injury and getting the most out of your training.

The shoulder is such an interesting part of the body. It’s a joint that’s suspended by muscles and fascia and its only point of contact with the rest of the skeletal system is a dinky little joint at the collar bone. Which means that our musculature is doing all the work to maintain stability while moving through huge ranges.

Underneath the layers of muscle, the shoulder has a capsule and it has four positions where it winds up and reaches its highest levels of tension and stability. If we can achieve these positions from start to finish when transitioning through movement, particularly under load we’ll have less chance of injury.


  1. The first movement being overhead a combination of external rotation and flexion at the shoulder and protraction of the scapula (moving forward around the rib cage). Examples of this being the start position of chest to bar pull up or end position of push press. Our arms should get past our ears with the elbow pits facing each other.
  1. Next the front rack position is also flexion and external rotation of the shoulder. Obvious examples are a front squat or the bottom of a hand stand push up. This is elbows up to shoulder level, with the hands outside the shoulders and palms turned up.
  1. Hang position is a full internal rotation of the shoulder. This can be seen when we clean or Snatch. Elbows out to the side at shoulder level and hands down to floor, aiming for the forearms to be in line with the body.
  1. The press position consists of internal rotation and extension. Seen with the start of a bench press or bottom of a ring dip. The elbows are taken past the body as far as possible with hands at chest level.

Failing to maintain shapes of stability becomes more difficult to transition and finish safely to the next position. Make sure you have competency in all 4 positions. If you’re struggling with a position you need to be mobilising. If you’re having pain with these positions you should have it assessed to avoid being side lined.

 

Myofascial Release

Myofascia interweaves through our muscles and takes up to 80% of muscle mass. Consider this when you’re doing your stretching and but not getting the results you wanted, it’s possibly due to fascial restrictions.

What is Myofascia?

Fascia is the largest system in the body with the appearance of spider’s web. Fascia is very densely woven from the top of the head to our toes, covering and interpenetrating every muscle, bone, nerve, artery and vein, all our internal organs including the heart, lungs, brain and spinal cord. In this way, you can begin to see that each part of the body is connected to every other part by the fascia, like a fitted suit.

How would it affect me?

Myofascia interweaves through our muscles and takes up to 80% of muscle mass. Consider this when you’re doing your stretching and but not getting the results you wanted, it’s possibly due to fascial restrictions.

I’d like you to try something. Reach behind your back with your right hand, grab a handful of the shirt/top in the middle of your back. Now try and lift your left hand above your head, it will likely be restricted and wind up in certain areas. Think about the tightness and restriction you might feel doing an overhead lift or in the back when squatting, it could be the fascia pulling on these areas.

One study has shown that tightness in the posterior neck muscles can cause a significant decrease in hamstring length and strength. (1)

What causes it to get tight?

Postural adaptations, trauma, inflammatory responses, and surgical procedures create myofascial restrictions that can produce tensile pressures of approximately 2,000 pounds per square inch on pain sensitive structures that do not show up in many of the standard tests (x-rays, MRI scans, etc.)

What does Myofascial release involve?

The MFR technique appears quite light as it puts a slow sustained shearing force on the superficial layer of fascia that lies beneath the skin. The superficial layer taps into other deeper structures within muscle and other systems of the body. There is no oil used as it allows for more feedback detecting for fascial restrictions into the therapist’s hands. There is extensive evidence that shows myofascial release is an effective tool in improving flexibility and reducing pain (2,3,4,5)

How does it differ from a deep tissue massage?

With DTM this is more directed to muscle tissue that has adhesions or is tightened and needs deep pressure to bring back some length and lower its tone. Although the deep pressure can be painful depending on how sensitive the tissue is and pain tolerances of the individual.

 

  1. McPartland et al (1996) Rectus capitis posterior minor: a small but important suboccipital muscle, Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies
  2. Hsieh et al,  (2002) Effectiveness of four conservative treatments for subacute low back pain: a randomized clinical trial. Spine.
  3. Wong, K.-K. et al, (2016) Mechanical deformation of posterior thoracolumbar fascia after myofascial release in healthy men – a study of dynamic ultrasound. Physiotherapy
  4. LeBauer et al, (2008) The effect of myofascial release (MFR) on an adult with idiopathic scoliosis. J Bodyw Mov Ther.
  5. Ajimsha et al (2012) Effectiveness of myofascial release in the management of lateral epicondylitis in computer professionals. Arch. Phys. Med. Rehabi.
  6. Ajimsha, M.S. et al, (2014) Effectiveness of Myofascial release in the management of chronic low back pain in nursing professionals Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies

Hold the Ice – in RICE

Questioning the reasoning of using ice when injured. A lot of current evidence shows that ice may hinder the recovery of an injury.

Changing brings difference, difference brings progress and if progress was easy to achieve it would not be so hard to accomplish. 

This is always going to be a difficult topic to discuss when dealing with an acute injury. The knee jerk reaction is to apply the ice to the sprained ankle or twisted knee as it’s something commonly used in general practice for over 40 years. This is not me condoning the use of the ice if you’ve had good experiences with it in the past, just providing another way of approaching the recovery of an injury with current literature and using clinic reasoning.

Most of us have been familiar with R.I.C.E. (Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation) for the initial treatment of acute injuries, which was first published in sports medicine book by Dr Gabe Mirkin in 1978. The acronym was easily remembered and became engrained in all environments with little to no challenge of its overall effectiveness. In the last 7-8 years, there has been more evidence published to question inclusion of ice as an essential tool for an acute injury. In fact, Dr Mirkin has reviewed the current research and done a complete turn on his own recommendation of using ice.

Why use Ice?

The whole idea of icing was to restrict blood flow to the damaged structure, to minimise swelling and bleeding. This was to be applied at regular intervals for the first 2-3 days. It was believed that the swelling restricts range of motion and delays the overall length of recovery. Also, it works as a natural numbing agent to help with pain relief

What’s happening when we get injured?

A multitude of things begin to happen in the body when faced with an injury. You may be aware of the three stages of an injury; acute inflammation, proliferation and remodelling. In that inflammatory stage the blood vessels dilate and increase permeability allowing an increased supply of white blood cells (Microphages and leukocytes) to the damaged site. These blood cells will help break down the damaged tissue and to promote healing will produce growth hormones. There is also increased swelling and the joint becomes more restricted and increases sensitivity to pain which both protects the joint from further damage. Our other less known system in the body, the lymphatic system (the “sewerage” system) slowly helps drain the area of fluid and other by-products.

What is the current evidence showing?

If blood flow is restricted through ice, this limits the release of white blood cells to the area. Lu (1) found that with a steady supply of growth hormone soft tissue can heal at a normal rate compared to tissue with limited/no supply of the hormone. Also, when ice is applied it has a longer lasting effect on vasoconstriction even after the ice has been removed (2), meaning the supply of these white blood cells is depleted for a prolonged time.

Also, the lymphatic system that I mentioned which helps draw away swelling and the “junk”, this is assisted by the pumping action of muscle contractions. Bleakley (3) demonstrated that the strength of a contraction is depleted when iced is applied and this would impact on the pumping action to lymph nodes that help draw swelling away from the injured site. Also, icing the injured site causes changes to the permeability of the lymphatic system causing fluid to leak back into the injured site cause more swelling (4 – I know it’s old but it was a foundational study).

Another study in 2011 (5) broke down the stages of healing even further, the soft tissue was sampled physiologically and under a microscope, comparing damaged tissue that had been iced and non-iced.

Time after injury No Icing Group Icing Group
12 hours Macrophages were found within the necrotic muscle fibers (Macrophage migration to an injured site to phagocytose the necrotic muscle fibers is essential for “clean-up”) Less macrophages were found within the necrotic muscle fibers
Day 3 Regenerating muscle cells present Reduced regenerating muscle cells
Day 4 Normal sized muscle cells produced Smaller sized regenerating muscle cells
Day 14 Normal maturation of the regenerating muscle fibers Maturation of the regenerating was visibly reduced
Day 28 Cross-sectional area of the regenerating muscle was 65% greater than the icing group Collagen fibers were seen only among the bundles of muscle fibers as it is seen in healthy muscles Regenerating muscle fibers was significantly less in the icing group (P < 0.01) Abnormal collagen formation where collagen fibers surrounded each muscle fiber

If no ice then what are we left with?

So now we know ice doesn’t need be put on this pedestal of being an essential tool in recovery post injury. It still has its place for pain modulation, but only for short periods otherwise it will cause prolonged vasoconstriction. Also along the lines of avoiding limiting the inflammatory process, we need to refrain from anti-inflammatories and stick to a mild pain killer (ie Panadol) if struggling with discomfort. If this does not control your pain levels, seek your GP for advice on stronger medication

Following an injury, we fear the worst which is understandable, therefore it’s important to have it assessed by a health care professional to determine the degree of the injury and be receive the best advice, treatment and referrals if needed (i.e. X-ray). To kick start the repair process, begin moving the joint or damaged tissue within a comfortable range as soon as possible at regular intervals through the day. When resting consider having the area elevated above the heart and wear some compression. This will all assist with the lymphatic drainage, putting your body in the best environment and allowing it do the work.

Other options worth considering if you have a high pain tolerance and a keen mobiliser. I’ve seen some good results with regular intervals of using voodoo floss recovering from injury. Although there is no literature to support voodoo bands. But in terms of releasing myofascial tissue which is the main structure the band is impacting on, this can improve lymphatic drainage (6).

There is no harm in using ice, as we’ve been using it for a few decades now, but looking at the latest research and its impact on recovery times, you might want to consider your options before chucking on the bag of peas.

  1. H. Lu et al, (2010) Macrophages recruited via CCR2 produce insulin-like growth factor-1 to repair acute skeletal muscle injury. The FASEB Journal
  2. Khoshnevis et al, (2015) Cold-induced vasoconstriction may persist long after cooling ends: an evaluation of multiple cryotherapy units. Knee surgery, sports traumatology, arthroscopy : official journal of the ESSKA
  3. Bleakley et al, (2012) Should Athletes Return to Sport After Applying Ice? Sports Med
  4. Meeusen, R. (1986) The use of Cryotherapy in Sports Injuries. Sports Medicine.
  5. Takagi, R, et al, (2011) Influence of Icing on Muscle Regeneration After Crush Injury to Skeletal Muscles in Rats. J of App Phys
  6. Bruno C, (2016) Lympho-Fascia Release and Viscerolymphatic Approach To Fascia,