Applying cold therapy to various injuries—like a sprained ankle or a hamstring tear—may help reduce inflammation and alleviate your pain.
See The P.R.I.C.E. Protocol Principles
While each injury is different, these three tips will prove useful when it comes to icing almost any type of injury:
1. Protect your skin
When you are in pain, you may be tempted to apply cold therapy directly to your skin in order to find the quickest relief possible. Simply put—this is a bad idea.
If you apply cold directly to your skin, or apply cold therapy for an excessive amount of time, skin sensitivity and/or allergy to cold exposure may be the unhappy result.
In order to protect your skin, follow the following precautions:
- Limit the application of cold therapy to 15-minute sessions. After a 1 to 2 hour break, you can reapply.
- Place a towel, cloth, or other protective barrier between yourself and the source of cold to prevent direct skin contact.
- Stop applying cold therapy if your skin becomes blotchy, red, and raised after contact.
2. Apply ice as soon as possible
As a general rule, cold therapy is most effective in the first 24 to 72 hours following your injury.
With this in mind, it is best to begin cold therapy treatment as quickly as possible. However, if your injury requires the immediate care of a medical professional, it is important to prioritize professional medical care over cold therapy.
Typically, after 48 to 72 hours you can transition to applying heat therapy to the injured area. This heat will stimulate blood flow to the site of your injury, which in turn will bring nutrients that help with the process of soft tissue healing. However, heat therapy can aggravate an acute injury—so make sure to slowly transition to heat therapy, and be attentive to how your body responds.
3. Combine with the rest of the R.I.C.E protocol principles
Combining ice with following treatments during the first 24 to 72 hours following an injury may help speed your recovery:
Rest. Avoid activities that place unnecessary stress on your injured area.
Ice. Discussed above.
Compression. A compression wrap, such as an elastic bandage, may minimize swelling—and can provide needed support.
Elevation. Raising your injured area above the level of your heart can help prevent the pooling of fluid.
Remember that cold therapy is not a cure-all. So if your symptoms persist, the answer is likely not more ice. Instead, make an appointment with your doctor to have your injury properly diagnosed and analyzed.