As the Missoula Marathon and other summer races approach, more and more athletes will be battling injuries hoping to make it to the big event. Many will place ice on those injuries, a convenient and inexpensive way to cool painful tissue and reduce inflammation.
However, ice is not always the right answer. There is a time when it will hurt, not heal. That time is right before exercise, a time when a desperate runner may be most tempted to use it.
Studies have shown that applying ice directly before exercise significantly reduces the strength and power output of the underlying muscle for up to 15 minutes after the icing had ended. Also, ice can hinder fine motor control and impair position sense of your limb. Ice is proficient at numbing pain, so training immediately after application can encourage overuse and further injury as sensation of pain is markedly reduced. There will be no warning signal of pain to indicate when exercise should cease.
After exercise, ice maintains its benefits to provide soothing relief. Just remember that ice doesn’t work around the clock. Muscles need to be warm before exercise so they can work properly and provide the right signals so you can train effectively and safely. A soak in a cold creek post-run is a different story . . . Yikes!