How to Properly Ice an Injury

It's common to ice an injury. Icing may be used for sprains, strains, overuse injuries, and bruises.

Applying ice has been thought to help decrease swelling and inflammation, as well as reduce pain. However, icing doesn't speed up healing.

Person's Hand Holding Ice Gel Pack On Ankle - stock photo

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There are some details to keep in mind to make the icing treatment safer and more effective. This article explains how to properly ice your injury.

What Is The Proper Icing Technique?

To do it right, follow these steps:

  1. Get the ice on quickly: Icing is most effective immediately following an injury. This helps reduce swelling and inflammation.
  2. Perform an "ice massage:" When applying ice, move the ice around, not allowing it to sit in one spot. This prevents your skin from experiencing frostbite, which can cause swelling and blisters.
  3. Don't forget to elevate: If possible, keep the injured body part raised above the heart while icing. This may help reduce swelling.
  4. Watch the clock: Ice for no longer than 10-20 minutes at a time. You can damage your skin or tissues underneath (such as the nerves) if you ice for too long.
  5. Allow time between treatments: Allow the area to warm for at least 30 minutes before you ice again. Apply ice again if you continue to have swelling.
  6. Repeat as desired: Ice as often as you need, as long as the area is warm to the touch and has normal sensation before repeating.

While ice is often helpful after an injury, it is not beneficial—and may be harmful—if you're icing an area of the body that has open wounds, problems with blood flow, neuropathy that has affected sensation, or a muscle spasm.

Prevent Frostbite

Do not allow ice to sit directly on the skin. Use a thin towel between the ice and your skin and do an ice massage to prevent the area from getting too cold.

What Are Different Ways to Apply Ice or Cold to an Injury?

There are a variety of ways you can apply cold to your injury.

  • Traditional ice bag: Fill a re-sealable bag with ice cubes or crushed ice. If you need to, add a little water to the ice bag so it will conform to your body.
  • Ice cups for massage: Keep paper cups filled with water in your freezer. Use the cup to massage the ice over the injury in a circular pattern.
  • Frozen foods: Use a bag of frozen peas or corn on your injury. Once used for icing, the defrosted food should not be eaten, even if you return it to the freezer to use again.
  • Commercial icing products: There are many reusable cold pack products available that help with icing an injury. Some are designed to conform to a specific part of the body.

Summary

If you have an injury that you plan on icing, keep in mind the following tips.

  • Ice your injury as quickly as possible.
  • Use a towel and ice massage to protect your skin.
  • Keep your injury lifted above your heart.
  • Ice for no more than 20 minutes at a time.
  • Take breaks between icing so your skin can warm back up.
  • Continue icing as needed.

When applying cold to your injury, you may consider using a bag or cup of ice, frozen foods, or icing products made for specific injuries.

A Word From Verywell

Using ice to reduce pain and swelling after an injury is pretty common. If you have concerns about how long you should ice a specific injury, or you are not noticing any improvement, be sure to reach out to a healthcare provider. Try to take it easy and allow your body to rest as your injury heals.

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3 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. Michigan Medicine. Rest, ice, compression, and elevation (RICE).

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