Kelly Starrett from Mobility Wod brought this issue to the light with a post last year. His findings showed that, yes, cryotherapy can be effective in reducing pain following injury, but it was inconclusive as to whether or not it improved clinical outcomes. Again, this modality can be useful in preventing the body from healing its natural way, but do we really want to do that? You might ask then about other methods of limiting pain and swelling in the area. Starrett suggests utilization of compression to limit the swelling, along with elevation at times. Another method to decrease swelling is muscle activation. Mobility (when safe) is an incredibly useful method to a) maintain strength, b) evacuate swelling through muscle pumping, and c) help to restore collagen alignment. Now we're not suggesting ice should suddenly be abandoned in physical therapy altogether, but it should be given a more serious consideration as to its appropriateness. In fact, an interesting response by Nick Heudecker was brought up to this post, questioning the analysis of the literature cited and the method of the studies as well.
Perhaps it is time to consider a shift from the traditional RICE theory to a MEAT theory, as discussed by The Sports Physiotherapist. We have actually seen the MEAT protocol in practice with impressive effectiveness for returning injured athletes to play. M=movement, E=exercise, A=analgesics (non-NSAID), T=treatment. What are your thoughts on the RICE vs MEAT debate? Should we choose one or the other? Or is there a middle-ground that is more desirable?
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