Ice is one of the simplest, safest, and most effective self care techniques for injury, pain, or discomfort in muscles and joints. Ice will decrease muscle spasms, pain, and inflammation to bone and soft tissue. You can use ice initially at the site of discomfort, pain, or injury. You can also apply ice in later stages for rehabilitation of injuries or chronic (long-term) problems.
During an initial injury, tissue damage can cause uncontrolled swelling. This swelling can increase the damage of the initial injury and delay the healing time. If you use ice immediately, you will reduce the amount of swelling. Ice decreases all of these: swelling, tissue damage, blood clot formation, inflammation, muscle spasms, and pain. At the same time, the ice enhances the flow of nutrients into the area, aids in the removal of metabolites (waste products), increases strength, and promotes healing. This “ice effect” is not related to age, sex, or circumference of the injured area.
How to Ice an Injury:
Get the ice on quickly. Icing is most effective in the immediate period following an injury. The effect of icing diminishes significantly after about 48 hours. Perform an “ice massage”. Apply ice directly to the injury.
Move the ice frequently, not allowing it to sit in one spot.
Don’t forget to elevate. Keep the injured body part elevated above the heart while icing – this will further help reduce swelling.
Watch the clock. Ice for 15-20 minutes, but never longer. You can cause further damage to the tissues, including frostbite, by icing for too long.
Allow time between treatments. Allow area to warm for at least 45 minutes or an hour before beginning the icing routine again.
Don’t forget R.I.C.E.?
When there is an injury or discomfort, a good rule to follow for first aid is the mnemonic RICE:
R – Rest the injury. I – Ice the injury. C – Compress the injury. E – Elevate the injury above your heart.
Ice is the easiest tool to use in rehabilitation. It is inexpensive and very effective.
The most widely used is the ice pack. To make an ice pack, put ice (crushed is great) in a plastic bag, push out all the air and fasten the bag. Alternatively you can purchase re-usable “gel” packs from Medsport. Just pop a few in the freezer and use them when necessary.
Put a paper towel on the site of the injury or discomfort, and then place the ice pack over the paper towel. This will prevent freezer burn to the skin. If a regular towel is used, the ice pack will not get the skin cold enough to have the physiological effects occur. If the injury is in the neck, back, or shoulder, an ice pack can be put under a T-shirt or blouse. A person can then keep this on while working. Ice packs are also convenient when resting. Ice packs can be used on legs or arms. There are many types of ice packs on the market. If purchasing one, make sure it will get sufficiently cold to achieve the desired effect.
The second most used method is ice massage or ice cups. Place water into a styrofoam/paper cup and freeze it. Place a towel under the area with discomfort or pain to catch drips. Holding onto the cup, tear the edge around the cup, exposing the ice. Use a gentle, continuous, circular motion and rub the ice directly over the skin at the site of injury or discomfort. This is good for areas on the extremities such as knees, legs, ankles, arms, wrists, hands, and so on. Ice cups penetrate deep into the muscle fibers. Because this is an active motion, it can sometimes be more effective than an ice pack. There are some reusable plastic ice cups on the market, for the environmentally minded; however, paper or styrofoam cups work fine.
The third method is the ice bath. Find a bucket or container large enough to immerse the area in need. Place a towel under the bucket and add ice. Try to isolate the body part that needs to be iced. Immerse your foot for 5 to 10 minutes (20 minutes maximum). Do not immerse your whole body in ice – doing so can cause shock and/or possibly a heart attack.
The benefits of icing are far more evident post activity, don’t think icing before taking part in your activity will have a similar benefit, it may actually cause damage so be sure to pop those ice-bags on after that hard run or big game.