What is raw ice therapy?
Updated: Sep 11, 2022
I bet reading that title you thought I was going to rave about some boujee treatment you can only do in a remote spa in Iceland. I wish! Raw ice therapy can be found in your freezer and your pantry.
Years ago, a neuromuscular therapist taught me about raw ice therapy. I had been seeing him for all sorts of musculoskeletal issues. Most often these were minor injuries (sore back, knee, neck tension, etc.) caused from an intense workout or dance class that didn’t receive the proper repair or recovery. I’ve always been an impatient patient. I used to ignore body pain signals that would occur after a heavy workout, eating shit off my skateboard or a trip-and-fall incident; it didn’t matter the severity of the injury – I continuously chose to be oblivious to the alert. I would insist to myself I was being a whimp if I stopped and allowed my body to heal. Our bodies send alert signals to us for a reason. How else are we going to know when something has occurred that requires attention? I’d be lying if I didn’t admit to the fact I still struggle with this issue. But raw ice therapy has definitely helped me heal quicker and get back to injuring myself much faster.
First things first, what is raw ice therapy? Its literally taking ice from your freezer and putting it in a Ziploc bag and placing it on the point of impact/injury. Why does it work so well? The raw ice immediately calms the inflammation. It directly absorbs into the soft tissue and muscle fibers and begins to repair at the cellular level. Seems simple enough. Due to its simplicity, I questioned my NMT’s advice and informed him that I always ice myself after an injury…most of the time. He further explained that typically we are icing the “referral” pain. Often times where we feel pain is not the actual point of impact or source of the injury. For example, I might feel pain/tightness on the right backside of my neck. But the true source of my injury is on the left front side of my neck. My right side is compensating from the left side’s injury, thus I am feeling discomfort/pain in that location. (He pushed on the left side to prove his point and yes it hurt like a bitch). Icing and rubbing my right side might alleviate the tight referral pain temporarily. However, it will not do anything for long term healing because I am focusing on the wrong area and likely to injure it further.
Secondly, using a sports ice pack is not the same as raw ice. For one, it’s not comprised of ice. The bag material is much thicker; therefore, nothing is able to absorb into the tissue. This is actually a good thing because those bags contain a chemical reactor to lower the temperature inside the bag in order to make it cold. At most, its simply cooling down the area and decreasing inflammation temporarily. As mentioned, I injury myself often and I would do anything to expedite the healing process – so I tried it.
How does one do this? (Below are the instructions given to me by my NMT. Be smart here folks, if you have injured yourself horrifically, you are bleeding or possibly broke a bone – consult a doctor)
Step 1: Admit you in fact injured yourself
Put raw ice into a Ziploc bag and place it on the injured/sore location for 10 minutes only. Never longer than 10 minutes.
Step 2: Finding the source of the injury
You will need to move the bag around on your body to find the actual location of the injury. Remember, icing the referral pain will not recover or repair your injury.
You will know when you hit the jackpot as it’s a different sensation. The ice is cold regardless, but you will recognize the feeling immediately. It’s a bit gnarly initially, but hey you are repairing injured tissue here people! It’s not going to feel like kittens snuggling you!
Step 3: The next 10 minutes (never longer than 10 minutes)
Ok, yay you found it and have already cursed my name a few times in the process. Fun! Keep in mind the sensation you feel is the raw ice starting to work its magic on the actual source of the injury. Take a few breaths, distract yourself and get excited because you are repairing your ass.
Next, the area will feel very cold and then almost numb/but not. By then the 10 minutes are almost up.
Things to note: if it feels too much for you, take a break before 10 minutes. The whole point is never to do it longer than 10 minutes. However, as you continue to do this on the source of injury and the raw ice starts repairing – it will get easier. You won’t recognize this the first couple of instances as repairing takes time and everyone’s body heals differently.
I can honestly tell you I have used this technique thousands of times and expedited my healing process. I am an active person as well as a clumsy person and this has always been my go-to. Whether it be an injury caused from me bombing down a hill on my skateboard and messing up my knee, overdoing it at pole class, or sneezing and throwing my back out; this shit works.