To Ice Or Not To Ice

Is Ice Really The Answer?

One of the most common questions get asked as an Osteopath is about the use of ice and heat for an injury so I’ve written a quick guide on ice bellow that should hopefully help. I will write a similar post on heat in the next few weeks.

When to use ice or cryotherapy:

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    Use for injuries, where there is damaged tissue and/or the tissue is inflamed
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    Use if there is swelling or the site of pain is hot and red
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    Use for chronic overuse injuries like tennis elbow, golfers elbow, carpal tunnel syndrome or runner knee
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    Use for osteoarthritis

When to NOT to use ice:

  • On muscles – Unless you have a very acute muscle injury, icing muscle pain or sore muscles can have detrimental effects and make the pain or soreness worse. If you have just had an acute muscle injury that had a very obvious onset (like a pulled hamstring that made you pull up from your run and not able to continue) and is causing you pain, you can use ice for up to a day but then switch to heat
  • On back pain- It is difficult to tell if back pain is due to inflammation or muscle pain and when there is inflammation at play in the back it is usually too deep to effectively treat with ice so as a rule of thumb it is best to avoid ice for back pain

How to use ice:

  • On an acute injury use the PRICE rule- protection, rest, ice, compression and elevation
  • Use an ice pack or cover some ice in a thin cloth to prevent ice burns
  • Ice for no more than 5 mins at a time or when the area goes numb, whichever is first. Remember - When your numb you’re done! Areas with thick tissue over the affected area like the thigh will needed longer than areas thinly covered like the inside of the knee
  • Once the area has warmed back up again ice again. You can ice as often as you like so long as the area is allowed to warm back up again in-between. I would suggest at least 3 cycles on most injuries at least once per day

How does ice work?

Ice mainly acts as an analgesic (pain relief). It can numb nerve endings and reduce painful swelling caused by inflammation. There is some evidence to suggest that using ice may also speed the healing process.

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