Should You Use Ice or Red Light Therapy for Recovery?

Should You Use Ice or Red Light Therapy for Recovery?

Updated on:

Icing an injury is one of the most common treatment modalities. But is icing actually beneficial? In this article we’ll cover where the practice of icing injuries comes from, how the creator of the RICE (Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation) method has changed their approach, and how icing really impacts your body’s recovery. We’ll also explain some other recovery strategies that can work better than ice. 

Why Ice and Injury? The RICE Method and Why Its Creator Changed Their Mind

For decades, coaches and doctors have recommended the RICE method for minor injuries like sprains and strains. The method itself is very simple and consists of Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation. This approach to recovery has been massively popular because it doesn’t require any special equipment or expertise. 

The term RICE comes from the 1978 book Sportsmedicine Book written by Dr. Gabe Mirkin. Since the book’s publication, Dr. Mirkin has actually changed his stance on ice as a helpful recovery modality. By staying up to date with new recovery research, Dr. Mirkin’s views on ice adapted and evolved. He no longer supports RICE, and now believes that applying ice to injured tissue causes the blood vessel near the injury to constrict and stop the blood flow that’s necessary for healing and processing inflammation. [1] However, many trainers and people who work out still rely on RICE and icing injuries.

Professionals and Scientists Agree: Ice Isn’t a Good Recovery Strategy

Since the RICE method’s founding in the late 70’s, many more studies have been conducted that specifically look at cold therapy’s effect on soft tissue injury. One 2008 meta-analysis that examined multiple studies found that there isn’t enough evidence to suggest icing improves the healing of soft tissue injuries. [2] 

Another article that looked specifically at the effectiveness of the RICE method and its effect on ankle sprains found similar results. This 2012 article noted that there is insufficient data to support the use of ice for ankle injuries. More surprisingly, the article also concluded that the RICE method is based largely on anecdotal evidence, or someone saying the modality works without any hard data. [3]

Anecdotal evidence is hard to counteract. People tend to believe in what they think works and have seen work, even if research evidence disproves their reasoning. Icing injuries is just one example. 

Is Ice Harmful for Recovery?

Ice may be the safest , simplest pain relief tool we have at our disposal. When used to numb an injury, ice is very helpful. But when used for more than 5 minutes, according to Dr. Mirkin, ice can be detrimental to the body’s natural tissue repair process. Extended use of ice can also lead to reduced strength, flexibility, and endurance. [1]

Ice is not an ideal recovery method because it has the effect of slowing your body’s natural response, which is essential to healing. It’s better to use a modality that enhances your body’s natural recovery response, like light therapy. 

Red Light Therapy Promotes Recovery and Healing Better than Ice

Healthy light intake is a key part of a healthy, balanced lifestyle. Like exercise, nutritious eating, and restful sleep, healthy light intake can have a big impact on managing recovery. You can enhance cellular function and help support your body’s natural recovery process with light therapy treatments from a high-quality device like a Joovv.

What is Red Light Therapy? Red light therapy, also known as photobiomodulation (PBM), is a simple, non-invasive treatment that delivers wavelengths of red and near infrared (NIR) light to the skin and cells. The term “red light therapy” refers to treatments from light-emitting diodes (LEDs) that deliver specific wavelengths of red and NIR light to the skin and cells. You can learn more about the basics of red light therapy and the science behind it on Joovv’s Learn Page

Improved Circulation With Red Light Therapy

Ice numbs and slows our pain and recovery response, especially blood flow to the injury. That’s helpful to relieve acute pain, but it limits our body’s ability to heal itself after an injury takes place. One of the potential benefits of red light therapy is a significant increase in blood circulation following treatment sessions. This indicates tissues are receiving more oxygen and other nutrients that are important for healing. At the same time, light helps the body and circulatory system rid itself of toxic byproducts. [4]

Inflammation Support with Red Light Therapy

Inflammation is a natural response to injury and an integral part of the healing process. In a healthy response to stress or injury, inflammation sets in within a few hours and works to clear the damaged tissue and start the repair process. Once the injury or strain is healed, the inflammation gradually fades away. 

“overall reduction in inflammation.”


Ice and red light therapy have very different effects on inflammation. Ice works to suppress the body’s inflammatory response, while red light therapy supports inflammation management. Ice prevents normal inflammation from doing its job, which is to help us heal and process strain. Red light therapy can speed up the recovery process by helping the body process inflammation and oxidative stress more efficiently. Dr. Michael Hamblin of Harvard Medical School is one of the world’s leading photomedicine researchers, and he believes light therapy produces an “overall reduction in inflammation.” [5] 

To summarize Dr. Hamblin’s research, red and near infrared light act as a very mild form of stress that activates protective mechanisms in the cells. When red light hits the skin and penetrates into the cells, mitochondria are nudged to make energy more efficiently. This boosts the production of healing anti-inflammatories and antioxidants that speed up tissue healing and help fight diseases. [5]

Joovv’s Recovery+ Mode

Every new Joovv device includes Recovery+ mode, an innovative setting that optimizes the natural recovery, healing, and regeneration processes of the body. When a Joovv device is set to Recovery+ Mode, it will deliver both continuous waves of red light and pulsed waves of NIR light for optimal healing. Pulsed NIR light has been proven to work even better for recovery and cellular regeneration than continuous NIR light. [6,7]

Ice is an old school recovery technique that doesn’t work as well as light. Joovv’s Recovery+ mode is the cutting-edge of recovery technology, and one of the main reasons pro sports teams like the San Francisco 49ers use Joovv devices in their locker room

Sleep is Still Key for Recovery

Dr. Mirkin may have changed his stance on the usage of ice for recovery, but basic rest remains a core recovery component. There’s no substitute for sleep when it comes to your body’s ability to heal itself. Red light therapy treatments are designed to enhance cellular function, and support a balanced lifestyle with healthy light in the comfort of your own home, which can positively impact the quality of your sleep. Features like Joovv’s Ambient Mode are specifically designed to support your natural circadian rhythms and improve sleep quality.

Conclusion: More Light, Less Ice for Optimal Recovery

Ice is an old school recovery method that works well for acute pain. But ice also slows down the body’s natural recovery, blood flow, and inflammation processes. Red light therapy with a Joovv is a better recovery tool that’s trusted by leading professional trainers and athletes. Red and NIR light can help enhance the body’s cellular functions, and improve the healing process after an injury or strenuous workout.


Sources and References:

[1] Mirkin, Gabe. Why Ice Delays Recovery. 2015. 

[2] Collins NC. Is ice right? Does cryotherapy improve outcome for acute soft tissue injury?Emergency Medicine Journal 2008; 25:65-68.

[3] van den Bekerom, Struijs, Blankevoort, et al. What Is the Evidence for Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation Therapy in the Treatment of Ankle Sprains in Adults? Journal of Athletic Training. 2012. Aug; 47(4): 435–443.

[4] Mak MC, Cheing GL. Immediate effects of monochromatic infrared energy on microcirculation in healthy subjects. Photomed Laser Surg. 2012.

[5] Hamblin, Michael. Mechanisms and applications of the anti-inflammatory effects of photobiomodulation. AIMS Biophysics. 2017; 4(3): 337–361.

[6] Hashmi, J., et al. Effect of Pulsing in Low-Level Light Therapy. Lasers in Surgical Medicine. 2011.

[7] Gavish & Houreld. Therapeutic Efficacy of Home-Use Photobiomodulation Devices: A Systematic Literature Review. 2019.