Ice Therapy

What does ice do?
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 does ice therapy work?
Ice initially constricts local blood vessels and decreases tissue temperature. This constriction decreases blood flow and cell metabolism, which can limit hemorrhage and cell death in an acute traumatic injury. However, after approximately 20 minutes of ice, blood vessels in the injured area then dilate (open) slowly, increasing the tissue temperature, an effect which is termed “reactive vasodilation” or also known as the Hunting’s Response. A study reported in the Journal of Orthopedic Sports Physical Therapy, (Jul/Aug, 1994), found that, despite the reactive vasodilation, there was a significant sustained reduction in local blood volume after ice was applied.

Is ice safe?
Ice therapy is very safe when used within the treatment time recommended. Don’t use ice if you have the following conditions: rheumatoid arthritis, Raynaud’s Syndrome, cold allergic conditions, paralysis, or areas of impaired sensation. Do not use ice directly over superficial nerve areas. In a study printed in the Archives of Physical Medical Rehabilitation (Jan/1994), the use of ice was tested on spinal cord-injured and able-bodied men. The results were that ice and cooling down the body temperature may evoke a vascular response to cold stimulus that may be mediated in part by the spinal cord and by supra-spinal centers causing a change in blood pressure.

General Icing Guidelines
To control inflammation in the acute stages of recovery, the following guideline is often recommended:

  1. Ice applied through a thin barrier (damp cloth works well) for 10 minutes.
  2. Remove ice and allow area to warm-up on its own (generally takes 10 minutes).
  3. Repeat cycle as needed.