Self Care – Basics of Ice and Stretch

You can get rid of pain, soreness and restricted range of motion quickly with Ice-and-Stretch. You can adapt any stretch routine to be faster, more effective and easier by changing it to and Ice-and-Stretch routine. You can get relieve pain and soreness as well as restore range-of-motion quickly with Ice-and-Stretch.

Ice and stretch is a great adaptation
of Active Isolated Stretching and Stretch-n-Spray.

aismattesmethod47675Active Isolated Stretching is more effective than any other form of stretching that I have ever seen. You can read about how I became a believer in this post. It has several advantages over other forms of stretching:


  • AIS builds muscle as it lengthens the muscle
  • AIS often mobilizes fixations in joints that prevent trigger points from releasing
  • AIS is safer than traditional stretching
  • AIS reeducates motor planning
  • AIS works with the nervous system instead of against it

Stretch-n-Spray was used with a vapo-coolant that is only available by prescription. Using ice creates a similar effect without the expense and trouble of the prescribed vapo-coolant. Shocking the skin with cold from ice or a vapo-coolant:

  • releases the muscle’s resistance to stretch
  • reduces the muscle’s pain response during a stretch
  • dramatically softens (relaxes) the muscle
  • prepares the muscle for other treatments like massage or stretching

Ice-and-Stretch is
a less expensive and more convenient
version of Stretch-and-Spray.

Ice-and-Stretch is very different from using an ice pack or ice plunges. 

This post reviews how Ice packs work, when to use them and other useful guidelines.

Ice and stretch is a clever game with the nervous system. Hilton’s Law espouses that the nerve root that feeds the skin over a muscle and joint feeds the muscle and joint as well. The nerve that senses cold also senses heat and pain. By shocking the skin with cold, the pain response is diminished and the muscle relaxes. In practice, when the skin is stroked with ice, the muscle becomes softer, is easily lengthened and generates less discomfort.

Ice-and-Stretch combines the quick release and pain reduction of Stretch-and-Spray with the muscle building, joint mobilizing and motor planning of Active ISolated Stretching.

The Process

You will need:

  • A big chunk of ice. I’ve tried a number of things but I like the whiskey drinker’s ice-cube trays for convenience and ease of use. They work better than small disposable cups or those fancy icing contraptions that are sold for this sort of icing. Really.
  • A wash cloth. You can use a paper towel, if you don’t have a washcloth handy but it usually takes several to to something like a full routine of icing your neck or hip.

Use a big, square cube of ice. I use these silicone ice trays. They last for years and handle much better than freezing those little cups that you see behind the tray. I use this 6-cube from Amazon at home

  • Rub ice area over the muscle to be stretched. 
    • It is important that the ice is shocking to the skin. In fact, when an area of skin is more sensitive to ice, it indicates that the muscle is tighter with more active trigger points.
    • Dry with the washcloth as you go. It’s not just to stop it from dripping. For some reason, it creates a better release so that stretching is more effective.
  • Stretch the iced area 4 or more times.
    • Stretch slowly, especially at the end of the movement.
    • Stretch to the point of slight irritation, not more
    • Don’t hold the stretch for more than 2 seconds
    • If you assist, do so lightly to guide the movement, not intensify the stretch
    • Always return to the starting position before the next repetition
  • A few tips
    • Stretching harder or faster doesn’t seem to work. It causes the nervous system to resist. Instead, do more reps.
    • The second application of ice is not as effective as it doesn’t shock the skin as intensely to create the same effect on the nervous system. Still, it can be effective when going back to treat tight or sensitive areas after the first pass of a routine..
    • Ice-and-stretch is better when used in a full routine instead of spot stretches here and there.

Want to see Ice-and-Stretch in action? Here’s a short, sweet, popular video on how to get rid of a hangover with Ice-and-Stretch. It’s a great example of how to use the technique and one of my most popular videos.

Tony Preston has a practice in Atlanta, Georgia where he sees clients. He has written and taught about anatomy, trigger points and cranial therapies since the mid-90s.

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