Man icing his shoulder

Icing Vs Red Light Therapy: The Ultimate Guide

This article was written by Elise Burchett

Picture this. You’ve just finished a hard workout, your muscles are aching, and you’re feeling pretty darn good about yourself.

As you get ready to leave the gym, you can’t wait to go home, head to the freezer, and complete your post-workout ritual – icing your aches and pains!

It’s a pretty universal truth that icing feels good. Whether you’ve just exercised or you’re in pain, the cool sensation of ice can provide soothing relief.

But why is that? And how does that compare to red light therapy when it comes to treating pain? Could your preferred method of recovery actually be doing you more harm than good?

Let’s take a closer look as we dive into the science of icing and red light therapy!

Using Ice to Treat Pain and Inflammation

When it comes to pain relief, ice is a classic, go-to method. In fact, if you’ve ever had a sports injury, you’ve probably been told to “ice it.”

But how does icing work? Well, let’s take it back to 1978, when Dr. Gabe Mirkin, MD published the best-selling Sportsmedicine Book, which first described RICE (Rest, Ice, Compress, Elevate) as a technique for treating injuries. 

At the time, it was thought that by applying ice to an injury, you could reduce inflammation and pain.

And Dr. Mirkin wasn’t wrong… Applying ice to an injured area can help to numb pain receptors and decrease inflammation by constricting blood vessels.

But while this may sound like a good thing, recent research has shown that icing may actually do more harm than good when it comes to treating injuries.

A study published by BMJ examined multiple human trials and concluded that “there is insufficient evidence to suggest that cryotherapy (icing) improves clinical outcome in the management of soft tissue injuries“. (1)

Not only that, but in his own words, Dr. Mirkin has said that “Coaches have used my “RICE” guideline for decades, but now it appears that both Ice and complete Rest may delay healing, instead of helping.”

Rest Ice Compression Elevation

The Science Behind Why Ice Can Harm Your Recovery

So why has the tide turned on icing?

Well, it turns out that when you ice an injury, the healing process slows down and in extreme cases, completely stops! 

When tissues are damaged by trauma or disease, or muscles are sore because of intense exercise, the immune system kicks in to create a cascade of reactions that results in healing, the same mechanism that kills germs. 

This healing process is known as inflammation. 

Whenever you become infected with germs, your immune system sends cells and proteins to the affected area to kill them. When muscles and other tissues are damaged, your immune system sends the same inflammatory cells to the damaged tissue to promote healing.

Ice therapy causes blood vessels near the injury to constrict and severely reduces the blood flow that brings those healing cells into the area. (2) 

These blood vessels do not open again for many hours after the ice was applied, which can significantly slow down the healing process.

Man Doing Icing on Knee

Red Light Therapy – A Better Solution for Pain Relief?

The good news is that there are other ways to help your body heal itself without slowing down the process. 

Red light therapy (also known as photobiomodulation, or PBMT) is a safe, natural, and drug-free way to promote healing and pain relief, without the potential risks of ice therapy.

Unlike icing, which only provides temporary relief from pain and inflammation, red light therapy helps repair the damaged tissue and reduce the pain and inflammation that comes with injury.

Red light therapy stimulates the production of natural healing hormones like Prolactin and Oxytocin. These hormones are responsible for the regenerative processes that help us heal wounds, scars, and broken bones.

With light therapy, you get short-term relief from pain, inflammation, and stiffness while enhancing the long-term healing of soft tissue injuries.

It uses a wavelength of light that makes its way through the skin to reach the injured tissues below. The damaged cells of the injured tissue then absorb this light.

Inside the injured cells, the light triggers an avalanche of signaling molecules that work to:

  • Reduce oxidative stress
  • Increase blood flow
  • Reduce inflammation
  • Promote the recovery of damaged tissue

But don’t just take our word for it…

There have been numerous studies that have looked into red light therapy in comparison to icing (also known as cryotherapy) when it comes to recovery times, pain relief, and healing rates.

One study, published in the peer-reviewed journal, Lasers in Medical Science, looked at the strength of muscle after training, inflammatory muscle damage, and delayed onset muscle soreness, and the results were very promising (3).

The study found that:

  • Light therapy showed substantially better functionality after heavy exercise.
  • Subjects treated with light therapy after the first exercise round had significantly lower inflammatory muscle damage markers (CK, or lower creatine kinase).
  • When compared with ice therapy, photobiomodulation was significantly better in decreasing the muscle soreness ~6/10 vs <0.5/10 after 2 days.

Another meta-analysis looked at “The Effectiveness of Photobiomodulation Therapy Versus Cryotherapy for Skeletal Muscle Recovery” and the results were equally impressive. (4)

The study looked at five trials that compared red light therapy with icing in the treatment of skeletal muscle injuries, and all five studies supported the use of PBMT rather than cryotherapy as a treatment for muscle performance recovery following exercise!

In addition:

  • There were no studies found in the literature search that supported cryotherapy over Photobiomodulation (PBMT.)
  • Photobiomodulation (PBMT) was more effective in preventing increases in CK levels, blood lactate, C-reactive protein, and inflammation, after an exercise bout.
  • Photobiomodulation (PBMT) was able to increase time to exhaustion and better maintain muscular strength following strenuous exercise compared with cryotherapy.

So as you can see, there is a growing body of evidence to support the use of red light therapy in place of icing when it comes to recovery times, pain relief, and healing rates.

The Bottom Line: Icing Vs Red Light Therapy

So there you have it! When it comes to icing your injuries, it’s time to face the hard truth: you may be doing more harm than good.

That’s why we’re so excited to bring the healing power of Photobiomodulation (PBMT) to the masses, with our at-home red light therapy device – the Move+!

The Move+ is a portable, red light therapy device that uses medical-grade lasers and LEDs to deliver targeted, accurately dosed light therapy to help speed the healing process and reduce pain.

So whether you’re dealing with a minor strain or major injury, give the Move+ a try and see the difference for yourself! 

You may be surprised at just how well Photobiomodulation (PBMT) can help speed the healing process and get you back on your feet, both physically and metaphorically!

If you’re still not convinced, we’re proud to offer our 30-Day Experience Guarantee on every Move+ device. 

Just use the product for 30 days after purchase with consistent use (5-15 minutes every day), and IF you don’t feel a measurable difference in how your joints feel, we’ll give you a full refund.

That’s how confident we are in the power of red light therapy!

So what are you waiting for?! 

Try the Move+ today and see the difference for yourself!


Elise Burchett

Elise Burchett

Job Title: Writer
Bio: Elise Burchett is a writer at Kineon.

About Kineon

Bringing the latest advancements in enhanced red light therapy for home use. Our mission is to get you back on your feet and moving pain-free.

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