Ice: How it works and when and why to use it!

Posted: February 5, 2014 in Uncategorized
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Considering the subzero temperatures lately in the Tri State region, we felt it appropriate to discuss ice and its many benefits after injury.  Following an injury, regardless of how minor or severe the injury is the use of ice is often recommended. In order to make better decisions regarding the use of ice, it is important to understand how body tissue reacts to ice and treatment length.

The use of ice causes several changes within the body. Two important effects are the narrowing of capillaries to decrease swelling and decreasing the sensation of pain. When ice is applied to the skin local vasoconstriction or the narrowing of blood vessel occurs due to a reflex action of local smooth muscle. In the case of immediate injury there will be a decrease in the swelling. However, if swelling is already present ice cannot help reduce it.

Ice helps decrease the sensation of pain. This occurs by the cold decreasing the nerve’s ability to respond to stimuli, which increase the pain threshold of the individual. The area being iced does not automatically achieve this state of numbness. There is a progression in sensation from feeling cold in the beginning, to a mild burning, to aching, and finally numbness. The progression through these stages can take about twelve to twenty minutes. The recommended treatment time for ice ranges from twenty to thirty minutes in order to prevent undesired effects.

It is important to note that when using ice for treatment times should not exceed 20 minutes every hour or more because of a complication associated to over exposure to the subfreezing temperatures known as frostbite. Another complication that can occur is a nerve paralysis when cold is applied to nerves that are close to the surface of the skin.

The use of ice after injury has been shown to help decrease swelling by causing local blood vessels to narrow, as well as decrease the sensation of pain. When ice is coupled with rest, compression, and elevation many of the negative components of injury can be reduced. 

Daniel Rodriguez, ATC

Head Athletic Trainer New Rochelle High School

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