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Medicine for the Outdoors

Dr. Paul Auerbach is the world's leading outdoor health expert. His blog offers tips on outdoor safety and advice on how to handle wilderness emergencies.

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Ice it Down

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Athletes know it and do it, and so should you. If you are going to be vigorous on your feet, with your knees, with your shoulders, or any muscle group or joint, inflammation is your nemesis. So, to counteract the irritation, fluid collections, swelling, and pain, I highly recommend using ice and pressure within an hour or two of the exercise. In sports medicine, athletes are advised to do this after a significant (e.g., swollen and painful) joint injury, like a wrist or ankle sprain, and the method of RICE (rest, ice, compression, and elevation) works pretty well. If ice works for a dramatic injury, why not for something less pronounced, but nonetheless significant?

You can prolong the longevity of your joints by applying a firm or slightly compressed bag of ice or commercial cold pack for 20 minutes at a time, taking care to insulate the skin from direct ice application in order to avoid creating a frostbite injury. This should be done after exercise, and continued until the recipient reports pain relief, or even a bit of numbness in the skin. After a baseball player pitches a game, he or she ices the shoulder and elbow. If you are a rock climber and develop sore wrists, forearms, and elbows, it is perfectly reasonable to try a regular post-exercise icing routine. Hikers would do well to ice their knees, feet, and perhaps calves and ankles. It is easier on your system to rely upon ice and rest than a mixture of anti-inflammatory drugs and pain medicine.

photo by Paul Auerbach

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About the Author

Dr. Paul S. Auerbach is the world’s leading authority on wilderness medicine.

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