When Should I Use Ice?

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During this actual summer/heatwave, ice is something lots of us are going to be very familiar with, whether it’s in a bowl of cold water to cool our very hot feet or in a lovely G&T or cooling drink – and very grateful we are for it too!  But what about how and when to use ice to treat a physical injury or area of discomfort?  Is it something that we should always use, or just for certain conditions, and how do we know when we should be using it?

As most of you know, the use of cold is something our osteopath advocates – the ring of “and place an ice pack on it for 10 minutes after you get home” is familiar to many of us!

But why do they advise this? 

Cold is useful for reducing inflammation.  Inflammation is the process that the body uses to heal but it also causes pain! During inflammation the injured area of the body will become hot, red and swollen; just the same as if you cut your finger.

By placing cold over the inflammed area you take the heat out of it and in so doing reduce the amount of swelling in the area.  This is through a process called vasoconstriction where the blood vessels contract reducing the blood flow to an area.

Blood is hot and brings tissue fluid with it, which is the fluid which builds up in swelling. Tissue fluid contains chemicals, inflammatory mediators, that add to the process causing the pain. This heat and extra pressure from the tissue fluid also stimulates pain fibres.

Anti-inflammatories, such as ibuprofen, naproxsyn and aspirin, also work to reduce inflammation, however they do this using a different mechanism.  They block chemical processes that occur during inflammation preventing certain chemicals, inflammatory mediators, from being produced.

Inflammation Is Necessary For Healing

So if this is the case, why do we want to stop this process from occurring?

If you are healing from a injury then the inflammation is obviously needed.  The problem comes when the pain caused by inflammation stops you from being active because this also prevents recovery.  

The aim is to try to reduce pain but allow healing to take place.  Whilst ice doesn’t have as strong effects as anti-inflammatory medications, it does have far fewer side effects.

So What Can You Do If You Have A Minor Injury?

Our osteopath frequently advises you to put something cold on an area she has treated for about 10 minutes. This could be an ice pack or a pack of frozen peas! Either should be wrapped in a tea towel prior to application to prevent freeze burn.

However, on a more regular basis it is better to devote 15 minutes to an ice protocol; doing 5 minutes on, giving 5 minutes rest then putting ice on for another 5 minutes. You can do this as many times a day as you feel you need, the usual recommendation is 2 or 3 times.

If you have any questions about using anti-inflammatory medication, then we advise that you speak to your GP or pharmacist.

Please Be Cautious

Finally a word of warning, if you suffer from any heart conditions or any condition where you have been advised to avoid extremes of temperature it is a good idea to speak to a medical professional, such as your GP, osteopath or consultant, before starting ice therapy.

And, as always, we are here if you need any help or advice to return to being pain-free!  Just call us on 01242 227752 or drop us an email at info@thecamomilerooms.co.uk


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