Ice is used after an injury to reduce swelling and decrease pain. Ice decreases blood flow to the injured tissue and reduces inflammation.
Ice should be used for the first few days after an injury or until the swelling goes away. For instance, if you sprained your ankle 5 days ago and it is still swollen, you should continue to use ice.
Ice is put on an injury as soon as possible. Never put ice directly on the skin. Wrap a bag of ice in a towel or a piece of clothing. If ice is not available, use a bag of frozen vegetables, such as peas or corn, or a gel pack. Ice is usually put on for 15 to 20 minutes at a time then removed so the area can warm up to room temperature. Ice may be used every 3 to 4 hours during the first few days after an injury or until the swelling goes away.
To do ice massage, first freeze water in a paper or Styrofoam cup. Then tear away the top lip of the cup and rub the ice over the injured area for 5 to 10 minutes. Ice massage works very well for overuse injuries.
When you first apply ice, you will feel coldness, then burning. Then, after several minutes, the area will get numb.
If ice is put directly on the skin and left too long, it can cause frostbite. The skin, muscles, nerves, and fat may be injured, either temporarily or permanently. Certain parts of the body, such as elbows, knees, and feet, are more at risk for frostbite.
If you have nerve, vascular, or skin problems ask your healthcare provider if you should use ice packs.