Cold as Ice!


Last month we explored the therapeutic qualities of heat for older injuries. The application of good old fashioned heat is very effective for longer term aches, pains and sore muscles; the kind of injuries you pick up after prolonged spells of regular exercise.

Today however, we’re veering into chillier territory!

The application of ice (or cryotherapy) is an excellent treatment for swelling and soft tissue ligament and muscle injuries. No doubt you’ll have watched physiotherapists apply ice packs on the pitch and I can guarantee that most of you have an ice pack, or at least a bag of frozen peas, stashed in a corner of the freezer ready to be applied following a bout of rough and tumble!

That numbing sensation is a welcome relief from acute pain, right?

But how does it all work?

When we injure ourselves we activate the inflammatory process which is when we experience swelling, heat & redness. This is good, it’s the body’s way of protecting itself. However, as long as we know we haven’t broken or torn anything, we need to get moving! Inflammation can make movement difficult and painful so it’s imperative to lessen this response as quickly and as safely as we can. And we can do that with ice.

So, how does an ice pack work?

Let me break it down:

● In simple terms cryotherapy lowers skin and muscle temperature

● This process decreases blood flow which in turn reduces swelling and inflammation

● Most importantly, it’s an effective pain reliever.

Ideally, the RICE (Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation) protocol should be applied immediately following an acute injury. In this instance ice treatment plays a critical role. The ice pack must be compressed upon the wound either with a tight bandage or held in place by a helpful person. Compression prevents further swelling by removing any available space for fluid, so it’s a vital step in treatment. Elevating and resting the inflicted limb will further reduce swelling and pain.

Just a gentle reminder that when applying an ice pack you must ensure that you place a towel between your skin and the pack because no one likes freezer burn! Following immediate treatment you should ice the affected area every few hours for 15-20 minutes at a time to further reduce swelling and aid pain relief. This regular practice will allow you to successfully complete your rehab!

What to remember:

● Never use ice directly on the skin

● Don’t use ice packs around the side or the front of the neck

● Don’t treat the affected area for more than 30 minutes at a time

Summer sports and family fun is what life is all about so it pays to be prepared for those little incidents!

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Fellside Physiotherapy Chartered Society of Physiotherapy (CSP)
Fellside Physiotherapy Health & Care Professions Council (HCPC)
Fellside Physiotherapy Physios in Sport
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