When Is Ice Used for a Sports Injury

Ice application following a sports injury can help reduce symptoms of pain and swelling. Icing can help reduce blood flow to your injury, thus, decreasing inflammation.

When should you use ice for a sports injury?

Ice is most effective in acute sports injuries during the first 24 to 48 hours following your injury. However, if swelling is still present after 48 hours, ice therapy should still be used. For example, if after 4 days you still have swelling after a calf strain (pulled calf), you should still be using ice to relieve your pain and swelling.

What is the proper way to use ice in a sports injury?

There are several ways in which you can apply ice for your sports injury including
  • Placing ice cubes or crushed ice in a ziplock bag, or by using a commercial frozen gel pack, wrapping it with towel and applying the pack over your injury for 20 minutes at a time. You can continue applying ice packs every 3 to 4 hours per day.

    Avoid steady, direct contact between your skin and the pack as this may lead to skin tissue injury or frostbite.

  • Doing ice massage. Freeze water in a styrofoam cup. Once frozen, tear away the top lip of the cup and do an ice massage on your injury for 5 minutes at a time. Move the ice in a circular motion with each circle covering half of the original circle. Another way is doing it in a straight line with each return covering half of the original line.

    When doing ice massage, you will first feel coldness, then a burning sensation and numbness after a few minutes of ice strokes. Avoid steady direct contact between the ice and your skin to prevent frostbites.

Ice therapy can be used in mild and moderate sports injuries. Icing may also help with severe injuries. However, severe injuries do not always heal on its own and prompt medical treatment is often necessary.

If you are unsure of how to properly apply ice therapy for your sports injury or are unsure of the severity, don't hesitate to ask your physiotherapist or other health care professional for proper guidance or evaluation and treatment.

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