Athletes and Ice
Does it seem like more and more athletes are missing more and more of their careers? Pitchers are pitching less games and fewer innings per outing, and yet everyone needs Tommy John surgery to repair their elbows. The NBA has been hammered the last few years with injuries to superstars. The threat of injury has every athlete getting more “treatment,” but despite all the extra treatment, it seems like bodies aren’t holding up as well.
Makes me wonder if we’re going to discover one day that icing joints down after rigorous exercise is like bloodletting a sick patient. We treat swelling like swelling is a problem, but it’s a solution. Swelling immobilizes joints and oxygenates damaged tissue. Rather than let the body do what it is built to do, we treat a remedy like it’s some symptom.
The same thing with fevers. High body temps kill viruses meant for a narrow range of temperatures. We see the fever as a problem and fight that, when the fever is what our body uses to get better. My dad is a stubborn cuss; when he gets sick, he just piles on the blankets and “sweats it out.” You know, like what we have done for millions of years (for longer than we’ve been humans).
I guess I inherited this stubbornness. When I sprain an ankle, I walk it off. Yeah, it hurts like sin, but the last thing I want to do is numb that hurt. The hurt tells me where not to put pressure. Pain isn’t something given to us to punish us; it’s a tool for avoiding further tissue damage. Without pain, we would leave our hands on the hot stove.
So how much damage are we doing by giving athletes ice baths and wrapping ice packs on the shoulders and elbows of pitchers? I suspect quite a bit. Not only are we getting rid of the immobilizing swelling, which allows us to move joints and micro-tear ligaments that need healing. It also deadens the pain which would tell us not to move the joints quite that far or in that direction until they’ve had a chance to heal. Plus, heat and extra blood may have some recovery effect.
It’ll be nice when we get those nanos up and running and we can monitor recovery on a cellular basis, see what’s going on in the tissue over time, and hopefully be brave enough to try different recovery methods along with some control groups. The first hypothesis I’d test is whether the control groups who don’t ice have stronger recoveries. My guess would be that we need to get extra building blocks into bodies, in the form of nutrients, vitamins, proteins, and minerals. Maybe have athletes breathe a higher oxygen mix for a full day after a taxing outing. And whatever we do — don’t fight the swelling.