whats wrong with swelling

Someone previously addressed this issue but no one really answered it.

I have a knee injury and am trying to find out the best course of action. Icing, Heat and Alternating Ice and Heat Treatments are the 3 most popular.

However, almost all the information that praises the Icing technique does so from the standpoint of reduced swelling. Why reduce the swelling? Pain reduction and increased movement are all the craze. But I don’t care about the pain nor the movement. I simply want the injury healed in the fastest way possible.

The only rational reason, that I got from another site, uses Ice as the precursor to activate the phenomenon of over-compensation of the dilating of the blood vessels. When the ice is removed, there is an accelerated transfer of nutrients needed for the healing process. This made the Ice to Hot alternating technique make sense.

So my question remains. What is wrong with swelling and do I need to reduce or eliminate it?

Well swelling itself causes pain. Who wants pain?

Swelling also causes displacement of your body parts. Your body is already starting to heal itself and the faster everythign is in its proper location the better off for you.

Swelling also reduces oxygen to your body parts this may cause cell damage.

The best treatments comes under the term RICE:


Heat isn’t really helpful but in reality it makes the injury FEEL better. So what I do is alternate ice with heat. Ice is the best, but heat does make it feel better.

The body swells for a reason. I am not convinced that my body does not know what it is doing, though I would welcome a rational explanation as to why it may not.
Ice creates a numbing effect on the nerve endings so that feels better too. No pain. Ask anyone who pierced an ear after ice numbing.
But maybe I was unclear.

“But I don’t care about the pain nor the movement. I simply want the injury healed in the fastest way possible.”

Oxygen is transferred to your ‘body parts’ by way of the blood. Icing an area restricts blood flow to that area. Oxygen will also therefore also be restricted. So your oxygen explanation is not reasonable. Thanks anyway.

Often the inflammatory response is out of proportion to the threat it is dealing with. The result can be more damage to the body than the agent itself would have produced.

Unless you have access to steroids or human growth hormone you best bet is what Markxxx posted. RICE is a tried and true treatmeant even athletes use it and I doubt they are looking to prolong their injuries.

That link appears to be talking about inflammation caused by infections. I’ll bow to others’ judgment because I am certainly not a medical expert myself, but is that article pertinent to the sort of swelling that the OP is talking about, caused by injury?

When it comes to athletes, I sometimes suspect that they want to get back into action too soon, that’s why they seek to get rid of swelling. That doesn’t convince me that it’s the best course of action for regular people.

The body has a hard time telling the difference between an injury that might get infected and an injury that might not. It sees tissue damage and reacts.

As for the original question, I have been told by many doctors to use alternating cold and heat. Cold restricts blood flow whereas as heat promotes it, but cold also limits swelling, which heat does not. As someone who manages to sprain his ankle pretty badly about every other year, I have a lot of experience with this kind of thing. (And, no, I’m not an athlete. Just accident-prone and with “weak ankles” if such a thing really exists.)

Have a friend that shattered his ankle (Ice skate dropped into a crack while he was cornering) and the Ortho that treated him felt that operating would cause all the pieces to require pinning and there were far to many pieces, so he elected to let the natural splinting of the body(swelling) and his casting to repair this ankle.
The recovery period was almost 3 times longer and no walking cast for, I want to think 6 months. The repair was very successful and after 20 years no limp.
The surgeon stated that swelling was natures way of splinting, at least in this situation.

Swelling increases the pressure on the tendons and ligaments, which can lead to more damage as they slide through your tissue (like tendonitis). If you get enough swelling then the ligaments will get stretched. I don’t have any personal experience with knees but I’ve twisted/sprained a lot of ankles. Keeping down the swelling is very important for the first 24-36 hours. Besides RICE you’re also recommended to take anti-inflammatories (e.g. aspirin and ibuprofen).

Pro baseball players usually ice down their shoulders/elbows after pitching. The thinking is that the stress of pitching can lead to some swelling and tendonitis.

I’m sure you’re right, but the linked article appears to be talking about risks due to long-term inflammation of soft tissue such as the lungs and liver, and not so much about the “Nature’s splint” aspect of swelling that I think the OP is getting at. If it is true that short-term swelling can actually be bad for you, that would seem to be a strange misstep by evolution.