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To optimize healing of a muscle – skip the ice
If you it HURT IT…………. RICE IT.
It’s an easy acronym to remember and it appears to help………
Packets of frozen peas, are definitely medicinal, in the moments after an injury. They bring pain relief and keep the swelling down, but do they actually, speed up healing ?
Healing a muscle
Is highly co-ordinated process, involving several interdependent phases.
Degeneration and inflammation, precedes regeneration.
The first cells on the scene, are pro-inflammatory M1 macrophages, they infiltrate into the injury site and take stock of the situation. First things first, they set about removing the damaged tissue and then, they secrete special chemicals, which stimulate the proliferation of muscle satellite cells.
These are “baby” muscle cells, on the outskirts of the muscle proper.
The macrophage activity, stir them to action and………..
They get down to business, actively dividing.
And then they muscle up.
Either, by joining with muscle that is already there or fusing with one another, to grow muscle from “scratch”.
Inflammation brings resources
Dilated blood vessels, bring these macrophages, along with the nutrients and oxygen, to get the job done……….
An ice pack, tones down the level of inflammation.
But, this interferes with the supply line, could have unintended consequences, in the long run.
So when you’re nursing a hurt, what should you do ? Hot or cold ?
Our team, decided to pit, the two most common approaches to managing muscle injury, against one another.
Let’s look what happened…….
Step 1 to look at hurt muscles, is to injure some.
They chose to hurt the soleus muscles, of 8 week old male wistar rats. Now rather than banging them, with a blunt object, they opted to inject them with 0.3 ml of 0.5 % bupivacaine solution, using a BIG NEEDLE.
NOTE : The did the procedure under anaesthesia and took special precautions, to make sure, it was done under sterile conditions.
Something that doesn’t always happen, when REAL HURTS happen, then they treated the hurts, like real hurts.
Treating the hurts
In one case, they did absolutely nothing. Agreed, this probably doesn’t happen too often, but, it does happen………..
When I had my car accident, several years ago and found myself at the emergency room, black and blue. They checked to see whether anything was broken, but gave me NOTHING for pain and NOTHING cold.
I went “home”, VERY SORRY FOR MYSELF.
And, did NOTHING further……
So it does happen. But, in the REAL WORLD, most people would ice it, as soon as they can.
Icing the hurt
So our team did this to one set of rats too. Before these little guys, even opened their eyes, they were already enjoying the benefits of an ice pack.
It was left on them for 20 minutes.
The final group of hurt rats, got a plan B treatment, heat stress…….
Now their treatment kicked in 2 days after the trauma and continued, every other day, for 2 weeks.
Basically they enjoyed 30 minutes in a Jacuzzi.
These little guys legs, were immersed in hot water, set at 42°C for 30 minutes, while their bodies were kept cool, with a hair dryer.
Unfortunately rats are not very fond of the Jacuzzi.
So to make this treatment, a little more bearable, they were anaesthesized during the procedure.
Scrutinizing the muscles
The team, then watched what happened to the muscles, over time.
Taking a look at 3, 7, 15 and 28 days, post injury.
The first parameter they looked at, was muscle weight and protein content.
The hurt, caused muscle wasting. And it took, a while, for the muscle to recover. In fact, a month out, the muscle was still not as good as new. No surprises here.
In terms of “treatments” – the muscles closest to being back to normal, were those that had been heat treated.
Hinting that heat stress, was the way to go….
But size is not everything
In addition, to size, our team, took a look at muscle quality – they did this, by looking at the levels of collagen. To do this, they used a fancy staining technique, which causes collagen to show up, in a blue colour.
Extra collagen is not good news………..
It’s a sign, of fibrosis.
It suggests the muscle is NOT as good as NEW.
At 28 day mark, there was less collagen, in the heat treated group, versus the no treatment and icing group.
Icing not optimal
Now, it’s not to say, the muscles wouldn’t recover fully, given time, but at the 28 day mark, the iced muscles are definitely disadvantaged.
So, if you’re dealing with a strain, contusion or laceration, pop it in the Jacuzzi.
Those hot bubbles, will “bubble your troubles away”.
NOTE : If you don’t have access, to a Jacuzzi, you can achieve the same thing, with a hot water bottle or heating pad. Just keep tabs on the temperature, burning your skin, won’t help those muscles.
The idea of using temperature to relieve pain, is not new. Strategic use of hot and cold, is the recipe for a pain free-er birth…. It’s simple. It’s safe. It works.
A gin & tonic is a great way to DE-STRESS after a HOT and busy day. Heat shock proteins help muscle cells unwind a little and this improves insulin sensitivity
A muscle rub down does more than just foster a good mood, at the cellular level, a muscle massage is able to fight inflammation and invigorate muscle fibres