As the holidays approach, my family and I did some cooking baking this weekend. It's become a tradition that we all look forward to, both the baking and the eating of the cookies. When taking break from washing pans and cleaning up frosting from the floor, I came across this cartoon which made me laugh. Not just because I was tired from baking and sore from standing so long. No, this is funny to me because it is what my husband says I went to PT school to learn. "Just put some ice on it."
That might be what he frequently hears from me when says his knees hurt after running. Possibly because he tells me in between making dinner and doing laundry, and I don't have time for the long answer. But the truth is, cold packs or ice can be very helpful for pain and inflammation relief after an initial injury or a challenging work out. High level athletes have learned the benefits of cold therapy after a game or practice, which is why they leave the training rooms with packs of ice wrapped around their knees or shoulders. Ice tubs/ice baths are also popular in training rooms, and you may see them in some gyms now too. But ice can also help us regular people who are sore after starting to exercise again, or standing too long at the festival, or even after lifting a box that was too heavy.
Cold packs will contract blood vessels, significantly reduce inflammation of joints, tendons or muscles, and thus reducing pain. The cold temperature can also slow the nerve activity rate, decrease muscle spasm, and decrease the perceived pain. Cold therapy (formally called cryotherapy) is most effective in the first 48 hours after the strain or injury. By controlling the inflammation initially, you can return to activity sooner and avoid falling into a chronic inflammatory state
Cold or ice can be use in different forms: gel packs, ice packs, ice baths, or ice message. A bag of frozen peas also works just as well. It is most effect used for short periods of time, 10 - 15 minutes, multiple times during the day. It is important not to place ice directly on the skin or leave for longer than 20 minutes to avoid any risks of skin damage.
While some people love to use ice to control pain, it is NOT for everyone. Clients with arthritis often feel very stiff after using ice packs. Diabetics with any type of neuropathy will not tolerate the cold temperatures and will find it very uncomfortable. Ice packs are also not the best option for those with poor circulation.
If you find ice helpful in managing pain and swelling, then great! But if your symptoms continue past 48 hours you need to see a professional for care to avoid any further injury or chronic pain. I promise, I have learned more from PT school and 20 years of practice than "Just put some ice on it!"
We help busy professionals whose activities are limited by pain, get back to enjoying the things they love, even if other treatments have let them down.
Catherine Courtney, PT
Specialist Physical Therapist