Ice treatment uses ice to treat pain or swelling caused by an injury. Ice reduces swelling by decreasing blood flow to the injured tissue. Ice can also help relieve pain by slowing down nerve and muscle activity, which relaxes tightening of the muscles and reduces nerve irritation.
Ice should be used for the first few days after an injury or until the swelling goes away.
Ice can also be helpful after physical activities that cause discomfort from overuse. For example, you may have pain in your knees after running or in your elbow after playing golf or tennis.
Put ice on an injury as soon as possible, but don’t leave ice directly on the skin. Use an ice pack, gel pack, or package of frozen vegetables wrapped in a cloth. Put it on the painful or injured area every 3 to 4 hours for up to 20 minutes at a time.
For overuse injuries, your healthcare provider may recommend ice massage. To do this, freeze water in a Styrofoam or paper cup. Peel the top of the cup away to expose the ice. Hold the bottom of the cup and rub the ice over the painful area for 5 to 10 minutes. Do this several times a day while you have pain.
If ice is put directly on the skin and left there too long, the skin, muscles, nerves, and other tissues may be injured, either temporarily or permanently. Certain parts of the body, such as the elbows, knees, and feet, are especially easily injured if they get too cold.
If you have nerve, blood vessel, or skin problems, ask your healthcare provider if it’s OK to use ice.