Most people are conditioned to ice their injuries; this is what they have been told for… well, ever! But the Chinese have a different opinion on the matter. There is an old Chinese saying that claims ‘ ice is for dead people’. This is because ice halts normal blood circulation and causes contraction of the muscles, which is counterproductive for tissue repair.
Icing is helpful only to prevent swelling (think: decreasing circulation), and has a numbing effect which is nice when there is pain. However, once the threat of swelling is gone, heat is much more beneficial. Heat is vasodilating; this means it increases blood flow, which aids in a more speedy recovery because fresh blood sweeps through the area aiding in the clean up from tissue damage. Unless there are visible signs of inflammation (heat, redness, and swelling), heat is the way to go.
Use ice only within 24 hours of an injury and only in short spurts of 10 minutes every hour. After that, apply heat. Heat can be used in many forms: heating pads, rice packs, hot showers, saunas and hot tubs.
Chinese medicine and acupuncture are great in dealing with pain and traumatic injury. First, acupuncture points can be used to move stagnant energy and blood, kill pain, and increase circulation. In my clinic, I use moxabustion and warming liniments to warm the joints and muscles of my patients. Massage with liniments is great for injured clients and energetically cooling poultices and plasters can help decrease inflammation without freezing the tissues. Finally, internal herbs can help the body heal itself even more quickly and completely.
So next time you think about putting ice on your knee, take a bath instead. You will be much the wiser for it!