Icing an injury is a common practice that has been around forever, and knowing how long and where to ice the injury can help the healing process.
Why Should I Ice My Injury?
Icing an injury can help to reduce swelling and pain. A 2012 study published in the Journal of Athletic Training found that applying ice to an injury can limit the damage by lowering the temperature of the tissue at the injury site. The change in temperature causes the blood vessels to constrict to limit bleeding. At the same time, icing impacts the nerves endings and synapses to reduce pain.
While all that is helpful, icing for too long interferes with the healing process and may cause additional problems to develop. Icing is a critical step in first-aid for an injury, but it’s important to do it right.
How To Ice The Injury?
Icing is a tried-and-true method for reducing pain and swelling to an injury site, but only if you follow the proper steps to get the most benefit from it. It is also most effective when applied quickly after the injury occurs.
Consider these tips for proper icing:
- Wrap the ice in a towel. You should avoid placing ice directly on the skin. If you can’t wrap the ice in something, move it around on the area to prevent prolonged direct contact. It is best to use a barrier such as cloth, though, to ice the injury safely. Applying ice directly in contact with the skin without moving it around can put you at risk of frostbite.
- Ice in intervals of 10 to 15 minutes. If you leave the ice on too long, you block the blood flow to the injured site and affect healing.
- If possible, elevate the injury, preferably above your heart, to further reduce swelling.
- Allow at least 45 minutes or longer between icing. Make sure the area is warm to the touch before applying the ice again.
Ice vs. Heat
Although ice is a good choice for many kinds of injuries, it is not always right. Generally speaking, use ice for acute injuries such as:
- Tendonitis – Inflammation of a tendon
You can ice most injuries right after they happen. However, heat is a better choice for chronic problems such as arthritis or other forms of joint pain. Heat encourages the healing of damaged tissue and causes blood vessels to dilate, improving the circulation around a problem area.
Tips To Keep The Injury From Worsening
Follow the RICE method to keep the injury from becoming more serious. RICE is an acronym for Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation. This method offers steps that go beyond just icing.
- Rest the injured area, especially if it’s a limb. You should bear no weight on an injured limb for at least 24 hours after the accident. This ensures the area doesn’t have to use any energy supporting weight. It can devote everything to healing.
- As you rest, keep the injury elevated to improve blood flow.
- Wrap the injury when not icing. The compression will help to reduce the swelling. Wrapping also braces the area to protect it.
These steps plus icing will help your injury heal.
Finally, if your injury gets worse, let your doctor know. Worse can mean:
- The pain increases or doesn’t go away after a few days.
- Swelling continues or doesn’t go down.
- You develop numbness in the area.
Other symptoms develop, such as redness on the skin, bleeding, or the area becomes hot to the touch.
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