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How to Use an Ice Pack for Swelling/Inflammation

Author: Niki L. Carayannopoulos, DO

Nothing can feel quite so good on an injury as a perfectly prepared ice pack. Ice is one of the most simple and effective therapies available for sports injuries. But in order to get the maximum benefit, it helps to know a little about how to use an ice pack for an injury.

What Can Ice Packs Do for Injuries?

Ice packs are generally best for treating injuries that are no more than six weeks old. This is because ice constricts blood vessels, reduces swelling and inflammation, limits bruising and numbs pain – all important factors in the early stage of an injury! (For more on this topic, see our blog post about choosing between ice or heat for pain relief.)

3 Fast Options for Ice Pack Relief

  • Ice cubes are usually the quickest option for getting relief. Whether you use ice at home or bought at a convenience store, simply add it to a bag with just a little bit of water, which will improve how the bag fits around the injured area.
  • Ice towels are excellent if you have a little more time to prepare. Wet a towel until it is damp. Then fold it, put it in a plastic bag, and leave it in the freezer for 20 minutes or so. The towel can then be placed on the injured area.
  • Cold packs are ideal if you plan on having multiple ice pack sessions. While a bag of frozen corn or peas is good when you’re in a pinch, a store bought bag is ideal, as these tend to maintain their coldness longer. Also, did you know you can make your own ice pack by mixing water and rubbing alcohol in a bag with all the air pressed out? Use a 2:1 water to alcohol ratio. This will create a slushy mixture that can provide excellent pain relief.

How to Use an Ice or Cold Pack

As long as pain, swelling, and inflammation are present, you can apply an ice pack to the injury three or more times per day. In the very early stages of the injury, you may even use ice every single hour for about 8-12 minutes at a time.

If you are continuing to use the joint or muscle group that’s injured, be sure to apply ice if the area has just been exercised. Lastly, stay safe by keeping a dry towel or cloth between the ice pack and skin. Never ice for more than 20 minutes per session.

Schedule With a Houston Sports Medicine Doctor

For more information about using ice packs for swelling and inflammation, schedule an appointment with a Houston sports medicine physician. Call Houston Institute for Sports Medicine & Orthopedics at (713) 756-5546. You can also schedule your appointment online.

Please consult with your physician before undertaking any form of medical treatment or adopting any exercise program or dietary guidelines.