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Icing for Strains and Sprains

by Berkeley Wellness  

Ice is the most effective, safest, and cheapest form of treating a muscle ache or pain. Not only does ice relieve pain, but it also slows blood flow, thereby reducing internal bleeding, inflammation, and muscle spasm. This in turn helps limit tissue damage and hastens healing.

With acute injuries such as torn ligaments, muscle strains, and bruises, the key is to start icing as soon as possible. Even if you go to the doctor immediately, icing an injury promptly will help speed your recovery.

Follow these tips:

  • Plain ice is fine: simply put ice cubes or crushed ice in a heavy plastic bag or hot-water bottle, or wrap the ice in a towel. You can also immerse an injured hand or foot in ice water.
  • Ice massage is the quickest way to cool an injury: move the ice pack gently over the injured area.
  • Apply the ice on the injured area for 10 to 20 minutes, then reapply it every two waking hours (or more frequently if necessary) for the next 24 to 48 hours. Be careful not to go over 20 minutes; longer than that may damage skin and nerves. Stop icing if skin becomes numb.
  • Be careful with refreezable gel packs and self-freezing chemical packs, which may be colder than regular ice. Don’t leave them directly on skin; either keep moving the pack, or wrap it in a thin towel. And beware of punctures in the pack, since the chemicals can burn your skin.
  • Don’t use ice on blisters or open wounds, or if you are hypersensitive to cold or have a circulatory problem.
  • Never put an unwrapped ice pack over the elbow or the outside of the knee, where the nerves are near the surface and can be damaged by prolonged exposure to cold.

Keep in mind that icing is not a substitute for seeing your doctor in case of a serious injury or an injury that doesn’t respond to self-treatment in 24 hours.