How Long to Ice an Injury

How Long to Ice an Injury

Ice Properly to Reap the Full Benefits of Cryotherapy

Many patients with acute injuries are able to find relief through ice treatments, also known as cryotherapy. If you have been injured recently, within the last 48 hours, and you are experiencing swelling, we recommend icing the injury for 15-20 minutes every two to three hours. This will help decrease inflammation and numb pain in the area because the cold constricts the blood vessels that carry potentially harmful chemicals called cytokines to the site. While cytokines allow the cells to communicate with one another and are necessary for immune system function, an excess of them can lead to a “cytokine storm.” During a cytokine storm, inflammatory cytokines are produced much more rapidly than normal, so icing helps to halt this process and facilitate healing.

Cryotherapy can also reduce pain and muscle spasms as it works to minimize the inflammatory response and improve recovery. Compression is helpful when using ice therapy because it further increases the insulation effect and reduces temperature of the tissue. However, it is important to be careful when applying pressure to the superficial peroneal nerve, which is outside of the calf and the foot. This nerve provides motor function to a few muscles and sensory function to the skin, so it is essential to protect this area. Ice therapy is not reserved for injuries, however. Your joints and muscles can benefit from cryotherapy even without an injury. In order to ice properly, you will want to take the following steps:

  • Ice as soon as possible after injury.

You will be able to experience maximum benefits from icing if you begin about 48 hours after you are injured. Applying the ice as soon as possible will reduce swelling and minimize inflammation.

  • Give yourself an ice massage.

In order to ice your injury properly, you will want to apply ice directly to the injury and move the ice around. You do not want the ice to sit in one set location for an excessive period. Instead, you should compress the ice in a variety of places to prevent damage.

  • Elevate the injury.

To reduce swelling, you should keep the injured body part above the heart. Putting a stop to swelling as soon as possible will encourage your cells to reach recovery sooner.

  • Be sure to pay attention to the time.

A standard icing session should last around 15-20 minutes, but no longer than that. If you ice excessively, you can cause more damage to your tissues, so you will want to stick to the “sweet spot” of icing for slightly less time than your favorite TV show.

  • Repeat as needed.

As previously mentioned, you do not need to be injured in order to ice. Icing can actually be used as a preventative method, as long as it is done properly. If you are using ice to heal an injury, we recommend doing so for as long as the area is warm to touch. This timespan is typically up to 48 hours after the injury.

When done properly, cryotherapy is a powerful technique with a range of healing and anti-inflammatory benefits. If you have questions about icing an injury, or you are curious about one of our other services, give ProFysio Physical Therapy a call at (732) 812-5200 or contact us online.

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