Using ice treatment appropriately can help to reduce knee swelling and pain. It reduces blood flow to the area, helps to numb pain and can speed up healing. The medical term for using ice to treat injuries is cryotherapy treatment.
Here we will look at how ice treatment works, the different ways you can use ice e.g. ice wraps, and how to use it safely and effectively.
With an injury, swelling accumulates in the affected area which causes two problems. Firstly, there are chemicals in the fluid that aggravate and irritate the nerves fibres causing pain. Secondly, the pressure from the swelling (there is limited space in each joint) causes pain and limits the amount of movement that the joint can perform e.g. how much you can bend and straighten the knee.
Ice treatment can help in two ways. Firstly, the cold from the ice has an analgesic effect which reduces pain. Secondly, it helps to reduce the amount of bleeding into the joint and soft tissues thus reducing swelling and any associated muscle spasms. Cryotherapy treatment is therefore an important and effective treatment for soft tissue injuries such as a knee sprain or muscle tear.
Ice treatment works most effectively when used immediately after an injury or surgery (in the first 3-4 days), but can also help reduce pain and inflammation in longer term knee problems. The simplest way to apply cryotherapy treatment is to wrap some ice in a damp cloth e.g. tea towel. Place a dry cloth on the affected area and then apply the ice for 10-15 minutes.
Do not leave the ice on any longer as it can cause an ice burn. It can also slow blood flow so much that the good nutrients needed for healing can’t get in and the bad chemicals produced from the injury can’t get taken away. Also, if the body gets too cold it responds by causing the blood vessels to dilate (open more) allowing more blood to rush into the area which actually increases swelling. This is known as the Hunting effect.
Remove the ice for at least 2 hours before reapplying to allow the area to return to its normal temperature. Use cryotherapy treatment frequently to maximise the effectiveness.
This two minute video from ToHealth talks about how and when to use cryotherapy treatment following an injury.
There are a number of different ways to apply ice treatment.
1) Ice packs/wraps: you
can buy specially designed ice packs/wraps. They tend to work best as
they stay colder for longer and mould well to your shape. They come in a
range of shapes and sizes. Find out more in the ice wraps section, including user reviews
2) Frozen vegetables: peas often work best as they mould best to your shape. Just don’t eat them!
3) Ice cubes/crushed ice: place in a sealed plastic bag and add some water to help it conform to your shape. Always wrap the in a damp cloth rather than applying directly to the skin
4) Instant Ice Packs: These are great if you are out and about or don't have access to a freezer. Simply squeeze the pack to activate and you will have an instantly cold pack to use.
5) Frozen ice cups: Fill paper cups with water (filled to the top) and freeze. Place the ice directly on to the skin and keep it moving to prevent an ice burn by drawing circles/patterns on the affected area. As the ice melts, fold back the sides of the cup to continue to expose the ice.
To find out more about the different ways to apply ice treatment, visit the ice wraps section.
When used correctly, cryotherapy treatment is a simple, safe and effective treatment tool. But there are a few things to be aware of:
1) DO NOT use ice if there is decreased sensation i.e. you can’t
feel something touching the knee. Check sensation before applying ice as this can
be a sign of nerve damage
2) DO NOT use ice if you have high blood pressure as ice constricts (narrows) the blood vessels which increases the pressure in them
3) DO NOT apply an ice pack straight to your skin. Always place a thin cloth (e.g. tea towel) between the skin and the ice pack to prevent an ice burn
Ice treatment is a key part of
treatment (Protect Rest Ice Compression Elevation). To find out more about the best ways to apply cryotherapy treament, visit the ice wraps section. Alternatively, visit the knee treatment section to find out about other treatment options.