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Why stop swelling near wounds?

  1. Jun 30, 2004 #1
    When you get an injury, such as pulling a muscle or something, and it swells, the swelling is an excess of blood flow bringing nutrients to help with a speedy recovery, right? If so, then why do people ice and elevate their wounds to diminish swelling, wouldn't this just prolong the healing process?
  2. jcsd
  3. Jun 30, 2004 #2


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    You are right, according to Chinese medicine you should keep it warm. But what is happening is an inflamation reaction (right?), this can be good because it can stimulate healing, but it is also bad because it can cause damage. Icing an injury will make the pain less and I think that's why it is done. It also reduces bleeding because the bloodvessels will narrow.

    I'm not a doctor or anything, so maybe the thing to do is ice when the injury happens and warm when the situation has stabilized. But don't take my word :P
  4. Jul 1, 2004 #3


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    Monique is right, ice then heat.

    The swelling and much of the inflammation that follows an injury is largely due to the leakage of blood from the ruptured capillaries. Therefore, ice is applied first.
    This constriction of the blood vessels prevents further leakage of blood and serum and minimizes swelling and pain. The cold from an ice pack application also has an added benefit of providing pain relief.

    In fact, the optimal management of an acute injury can easily be remembered using the acronym, RICE:

    Rest (minimize movement of the injured body part)

    Ice (apply a cold pack)

    Compression (light pressure wrap to the affected body part can help minimize leakage of blood and swelling)

    Elevation (raise the body part up so that the pressure from the blood and tissue swelling the affected area is reduced as the fluids drain from the area by gravity)

    How does ice help after an injury and how might heat hurt?

    As stated above, icing the injured tissues helps by limiting the leakage of blood and serum from the capillaries into the adjacent tissues. Ice also prevents swelling. In contrast, heating tissues causes the capillaries to widen. This widening can cause an increase in the leakage of blood from the capillaries and add to the swelling and pain. It is important to note that the blood that leaks into the tissues will later lead to inflammation, which slows the healing process. (they have done clinical studies on this)

    What about recovery after the injury?

    The days after an injury, when the tissues are healing, require a different approach from the immediate treatment. Now, the blood leakage from the injured capillaries has generally stopped because the capillaries have been naturally plugged by microscopic blood clots in the repair process. The blood that remains in the tissues needs to be reabsorbed by the body. At this time, heat applications can help, especially prior to recovery exercise workouts. The heat provides an additional benefit by relaxing the muscles of the injured area so that the workouts can occur as safely as possible. Frequently, immediately after a recovery workout, ice is applied so that leakage of serum and/or blood from any capillaries that are disrupted during the workout is minimized.
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