Cold therapy has always been a common response to different injuries. It can be used to treat sprains, overuse injuries, sprains, bruises, and the like.
Applying ice is one way to reduce inflammation and alleviate any pain caused by injuries. However, this doesn’t necessarily speed up healing nor is it always the best treatment option. Not to mention, a lot of people still make mistakes when using this method, leading to the injury worsening.
Tips for Cold Therapy
Each injury is different and may require different levels of care but the following tips, in general, are useful when applying the cold treatment to almost any kind of injury:
Get the ice on as quickly as possible
The general rule is that the cold treatment is most effective when it’s applied during the first 24 to 72 hours after the injury. So, it’s better to apply the ice as quickly as you can. But keep in mind that if the type of injury requires the care of a medical professional, then you should prioritize that instead.
Usually, transitioning to heat therapy is okay once you’ve passed the 48 to 72 hours mark. Applying the heat will help stimulate the blood flow to the injured part, bringing the nutrients necessary for the process of soft tissue healing.
But make sure the transition is done slowly, otherwise, it will only worsen an acute injury. Make sure to pay extra attention to how your body responds to the treatments.
Be mindful of your skin
It can be tempting to use the Ice Pack for Injury and get rid of the pain as quickly as possible. However, direct contact with the skin isn’t exactly a good idea.
Applying it directly to your skin or for an excessive amount of time can lead to skin sensitivity and allergy to cold exposure. To protect your skin, here are some precautions you can follow:
- Try not to apply the ice for longer than 15 minutes. You can take about an hour or two breaks in between before reapplying. This is because applying the ice for too long can potentially damage your skin or any tissues underneath.
- Use a towel or cloth as a protective barrier between your skin and the source of the cold therapy to avoid direct skin contact.
- If you notice your skin becomes red, blotchy, and raised after contact, then stop applying the ice immediately.
Remember the R.I.C.E. protocol principles
The R.I.C.E method is often what doctors recommend for minor injuries. It stands for Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevate. It’s a simple treatment method that can be done at home and effectively helps reduce any swelling, eases any pain, and also speeds up the healing process of your injury.
One of the most effective ways to jumpstart the healing process of any injury is to rest the injured limb. The first few hours especially leave the injured muscle weak and vulnerable to any further injury. Make sure to take a break and refrain from moving the injured part too much to let it heal.
As mentioned before, applying ice is a great way to reduce pain and swelling by decreasing the blood flow to the injured area. Make sure to wrap the ice in a piece of cloth before any contact with the skin to avoid frostbite.
Use a compression wrap around your injury to prevent the buildup of fluid and minimize any swelling. Elastic bandages or athletic tapes will do. Keeping the injured part a bit immobilized with the compression wrap can also help reduce any pain and prevent you from moving the area around too much, potentially leading to further injury.
You want the compression wrap to be snug but not too tight so that it interrupts the blood flow. If you start feeling any tingles, numbness, or discomfort around the wrapped area, then remove it and rewrap the bandage a bit more loosely. If the discomfort persists, then seek a medical professional immediately.
This means raising the injured area to a level above your heart. Doing this helps reduce any pain, throbbing, and swelling by allowing fluid to drain away from the injured area. If raising the injured area above your heart is impossible, then you can try keeping it at the same level or at least somewhat close to it.
For example, if you suffered an ankle sprain then you can prop your leg up on pillows or anything that elevates it while you’re sitting on the sofa. But if the injury is at your buttocks or hips area, then lie down with a couple or so pillows wedged under your lower back and your buttocks for proper elevation.
It’s best to keep the injured area raised as much as possible, even without cold therapy.
Different Ways to Apply Ice
There is no one proper way of performing the cold treatment method. Using Cold Packs for Injuries can be done in a variety of ways:
You can use paper cups and fill them with water before putting them in your freezer. Once the water has turned to ice, the cup can be used to massage the ice over the injured part in circular patterns.
Commercial icing products
Cold pack products can be reused and help with applying cold treatment to an injury. There are even some that were designed to conform to specific body parts.
Traditional ice bag
This is the method that’s commonly used to apply ice. Use a resealable bag filled with crushed ice or ice cubes. You can even add a bit of water into the ice bag to make it conform to your body.
A bag of frozen foods can be used to treat an injury, especially if you’ve run out of other alternatives. But remember that once the food has been defrosted, it shouldn’t be eaten, even if you’ve already returned it to the freezer.
When Not to Use Ice
As mentioned before, cold therapy isn’t exactly the best idea to treat an injury. Although it can be helpful for certain injuries, there are certain cases where it can do more harm than good. Here are some situations where using ice to treat an injury isn’t recommended:
- If the area around the injury is numb
- If the injured person has sympathetic dysfunction, an abnormality of the nerves that make it hard to control sweat gland activity and blood flow
- If the skin is compromised, such as an unhealed wound, an open wound, and skin that has been blistered, stretched, thin, or burned
- Immediately before performing any physical activities
- When a nerve is involved in the pain or the swelling
- If the injured person suffers from vascular diseases, such as poor circulation resulting from a blood vessel injury, vasculitis, blood loss, compartment syndrome, blood clots, or Raynaud disease
- If the injured person suffers from cold hypersensitivity
When to See a doctor
If you feel that the injury is becoming too severe, then it’s a good idea to make an appointment with your doctor or head directly to the emergency department of the hospital. The following are symptoms of an injury that might need the immediate attention of a medical professional:
- Visible deformities in the injured area, such as limbs being bent weirdly or strange lumps appearing
- Inability to use the injured area to support any weight
- Breathing troubles
- Severe pain and swelling
- Any crunching or popping sounds whenever you try and move the injured part
- Instability in your joints
If you have a minor injury that still won’t improve even with proper home treatment, you should contact your doctor immediately. Minor injuries shouldn’t have any more swelling or visible bruising after the first month.
Any swelling, discoloration, or severe pain after the first few weeks are also signs that you might need to visit a doctor as soon as possible.
Using ice to help heal an injury has always been a common practice. Whether you’re an athlete or not, getting injured from time to time is not unusual and the R.I.C.E method is typically the most effective for treating minor injuries.
If you still have any concerns about how long you should apply ice to an injury, or if you haven’t noticed any improvements, reaching out to a medical professional is always the logical choice instead of trying to figure it out yourself and accidentally worsening the injury. Most importantly, you should take it easy and give your body the time it needs to heal from the injury.
But not all injuries are the same. Although a lot of them can be treated safely at home with the help of cold therapy, there are still those that would need the attention of an actual medical professional. Make sure to pay attention to the type of injury you have and tailor your treatment method accordingly, as well as take into account any recommendations from your doctor.