If you’ve just sustained an injury you need to treat it correctly as soon as possible to help your body heal up quickly. This always raises the question, how long should you ice an injury for? The short answer is that you should apply ice as soon as possible and never hold the ice on the injury for longer than 20 minutes a time.
You can reapply the ice pack every few hours if the swelling is really serious. But if after a couple of days the injury doesn’t look like its improving and you’re still in a great deal of pain you will need to seek some professional advice to get the injury checked out.
Icing an injury is called cold therapy, or cryotherapy. It works by numbing the pain you’re feeling in the area you are covering with ice or cold packs. It slows down the blood flow to the area and thins the blood vessels to reduce the swelling, pain, and sensitivity.
Why You Should Ice an Injury
If you have knocked or sprained a joint, strained a ligament, or damaged the soft tissues causing bleeding you need to apply ice as soon as possible. Cold therapy is effective at both slowing the immediate pain and swelling. And, at a later date aiding with rehabilitation.
When applying ice immediately to an injury you are looking to do the following:
- Slow down the swelling and reduce the pain
- Stop the bleeding in the soft tissues
- Reduce muscle spasms
If you don’t ice the injury the area will become stiff and fill with fluid which causes the swelling. It becomes very sensitive and painful to touch. The more it swells, the longer the injury is going to take to fully heal.
When you are in the rehabilitation phase of your recovery you will be utilizing ice to help soothe the pain from working out and keep the area free from swelling until its back to 100%. Even if you feel fine after an injury, you should proceed with caution so you don’t aggravate the injury.
How to Make Ice Packs at Home
Unless you workout a lot or you’re an athlete you probably don’t have ice packs and ice wraps at home. Most of us scramble to make an ice pack after sustaining an injury, and end up using a bag of frozen peas. Nothing wrong with that, it works. But there are some other ways you can make ice packs.
Having a plastic zipper bag with some ice cubes in is ideal. You should have one of these in the freezer at all times. Don’t over pack the bag, you want it to have some movement so you can bend it around the area you’re icing.
It’s advisable to use a thin towel too when applying ice packs from the freezer. You can cause burns when applied to the skin if it’s really frozen and placed directly on the skin for a long period.
How to Use Ice Packs Properly and Safely
If the skin is not broken and you’re dealing with swelling you can use a little oil on the skin before the ice. This helps avoid ice burns and stops the wound becoming too wet.
Then place a thin towel over the area before using the ice pack. Hold the pack in place or wrap it with another towel over the top to keep it there.
The maximum time you should keep an ice pack on an injury is 20 minutes. It should have numbed the pain and stopped the swelling by then. If not, the injury might be more serious than what an ice pack can deal with.
You can take breaks and repeat every hour or so as you monitor the injury.
Precautions and Safety Advice When Using Ice Packs
Before you grab an ice pack and think it’s going to cure your injury there are a few precautions to be aware of. Don’t use ice packs under the following conditions:
- If you are diabetic
- On areas of the body that you know has poor circulation
- On areas of the body that are infected
- If you have a heart condition
- Do not use on the throat or front of neck