This is something I get asked all the time…and the answer is interesting.
The general advice for injuries in athletes in RICE (Rest, Ice, Compress, Elevate)…which has recently become PRICER (Prevent, Rest, Ice, Compress, Elevate, Refer (to a clinician)).
Which works on a basic level, however, in places where injuries are more common, any places where athletes like dancers train, shouldn’t we know a bit more about injury treatment?
Obviously, we don’t expect every performer/dance educator/choreographer/ studio owner or production manager to become a clinician, but we should know enough to be able to effectively respond to and treat an injury in the short term.
Ice or heat?
So there are things you need to take into consideration first of all:
The type of injury – acute or chronic (details below)
The timing of the treatment – is it before or after exercise or movement
Acute injuries are injuries that are sudden and severe, such as a muscle tear, broken bone or dislocation.
Chronic injuries are injuries that develop and worsen over time such as shin splints or tendonitis or impingement.
The RICE or PRICER method of treatment is really aimed at acute injuries. Ice is used to calm down inflammation and swelling and to help numb the pain. This acronym was created by Dr. Gabe Mirkin, a Harvard Doctor of Sports Medicine in his book in 1978 and has been used ever since.
So ice would be applied to injuries such as joint or muscle sprains or muscular tears for no longer than 20 mins after the injury occurs.
However, there have been recent arguments against this protocol suggesting that this actually goes against the bodies natural healing methods and potentially delaying healing. Even Dr Mirkin himself now states “it now appears both ice and complete rest may delay healing, instead of helping”, he does, however, go on to say that cooling can still be used to ease pain but to only use it for 10 minutes repeated once or twice for up to 6 hours (You can read Dr Mirkin’s blog post here).
Heat is used for more chronic injuries (except on inflammation such as tendinitis), helping ease muscle and joint aching and stiffness and helping to stimulate blood flow to the area. This would normally be done before your movement session.
If you have an acute injury or an injury that has developed and is still hurting after a week, you should get it checked by someone clinical such as a physio.
Do not push through the pain of an injury, and don’t leave it to get worse.