Coach Hughes: Icing for Cyclists
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Intelligent Training—Training

Icing for Cycling

Icing a cycling injury may be appropriate. Here are the pros and cons and, if appropriate, how to do it.

by John Hughes
© 2014 John Hughes, All Rights Reserved

John Hughes, the former director of the UltraMarathon Cycling Association and editor of UltraCycling, has been certified by the NSCA as a personal trainer and by USA Cycling as a coach.

Icing is one way of relieving muscle soreness and inflammation. If you have tight sore muscles then stretching and massage will help. So will active recovery: a slow, very easy ride or walk. If you have inflammation, particularly around a joint, then icing may be appropriate

Inflammation is the body’s way of protecting itself. Further, inflammation actually helps to heal damaged muscle tissue! However, inflammation may also interfere with function, making it harder to ride. If maintaining function is important, for example right before or during an important event, then icing may be right. Icing is one part of RICE, the recommended treatment for an injury:

  • Rest, i.e., stopping or reducing exercise.
  • Icing
  • Compression, for example, with a compression garment.
  • Elevating the affected body part to increase blood flow away from the affected area.

Remembering that inflammation promotes healing, if you decide to ice you should also rest if possible to avoid further damage.

Inflammation is the body’s natural response to overuse and injury. The body is trying to protect itself by removing harmful stimuli, including damaged cells, irritating substances, or pathogens and to begin the healing process. The harmful stimuli are removed by the lymphatic system. Blood has a pump, your heart, which moves blood through your body. Unlike blood, lymphatic fluid doesn’t have a pump, but moves as a result of muscle action. That’s why massage and active recovery are particularly important.

Inflammation is the result of increased blood flow to the affected body part and increased movement of blood from the blood vessels to the interstitial spaces between cells. This causes the swelling. Icing reduces the blood flow and thus reduces inflammation. However, if you ice too long, your body will send more blood to the region to prevent freezing increasing swelling!

If you decide to ice, there are two different methods:

Coach John Hughes demonstrating focal point icing

John Hughes demonstrating focal point icing.

Focal point icing
With focal point icing you rub the affected area directly with a piece of ice. The easiest way is to freeze water in a paper cup and then tear away a bit of the lip of the cup. Rub the exposed piece of ice over the affected area for not more than five minutes at a time. You can repeat this every hour.


Ice pack
To use an ice pack put a large amount of ice on the affected area for not more than 20 minutes. You can do this three times a day. Most athletes don’t use enough ice. A plastic bag or a bag of frozen vegetables isn’t big enough to do the job. Here’s how to make an effective ice pack.

Coach John Hughes demonstrating icing

1. Take four trays of ice and dump them on a towel.
Coach John Hughes demonstrating icing

2. Fold each long side of the towel over the top of the ice.
Coach John Hughes demonstrating icing

3. Then fold each end of the towel over the top of the ice. The result is an ice pack with just one layer of towel on one side.
Coach John Hughes demonstrating icing

4. Pour about a cup of water over the side with one layer of towel. The water transmits the cold faster to the affected area.
Coach John Hughes demonstrating icing

5. Apply the wet side of the towel to the inflamed area.

  

  

Get more information on nine different recovery techniques including post-ride nutrition, stretching, self-massage and icing in my 16-page eArticle Optimal Recovery for Improved Performance, which is available for just $4.99 from RoadBikeRider.com The article is illustrated with 14 photos.