The body’s initial reaction to an injury is similar to its reaction to an infection. This reaction is called inflammation. The inflammation process presents with signs of pain, swelling, redness and warmth. These signs are easy to recognize: think of the last cold that brought on a fever or a sprained ankle you have seen. The purpose of this process is to heal the injured tissues. The body does this using a response at the cellular level.
Icing a sore back, a sprained ankle, or a twisted knee regularly in the first 72 hours following an injury can keep the swelling from affecting surrounding tissues that were not part of the original injury. Once the ice is removed, the circulatory system ramps up blood flow to warm up the area and this helps move swelling out of the injured area. If you choose a heat pack in the first 72 hours of an injury, you may find that the heat feels nice but the swelling increases, which could prolong recovery. Ice can continue to be used for weeks after an injury in order to deter any extra swelling that may come from starting to move again.
Icing can be done a number of ways. One inexpensive approach is to use a bag of ice placed over a damp towel surrounding the entire joint or body part for 15 to 20 minutes. You can do this type of icing every two to three hours. Some studies show that the damp towel helps the cold travel deeper into the tissues. If the area of injury is really small, you can do an ice massage with an ice cube for two to four minutes.
When you choose to ice an area, the skin will feel cold and then it will ache, burn and eventually go numb. This is the normal sequence of sensation for therapeutic icing. It is also helpful if you can elevate the body part. Gentle compression is recommended as a way to help the circulatory system handle the extra fluid. If you know you are allergic to ice, don’t use it. Always check the skin after the body part has warmed up to ensure you don’t have any reaction to the ice. Don’t use the hard ice packs from your freezer that stay hard for hours in your picnic basket. They are likely to cause frostbite.
Icing or cryotherapy is effective in helping your body recover from an injury. Commit to using ice in the first 72 hours after any injury. If you’re having any issues and would like some help feel free to schedule an appointment or set up a free phone consultation below.
– Michelle Wieber PT, ATR