Ok so we have all seen the team medic running on the pitch with a cold sponge, most of us would have walked in the house as a youngster after a coming off a bike and getting hurt only to be pointed to the freezer for a bag of peas. Then putting that bag ‘o’ peas on the respective sore and often swollen part hurt like hell, I certainly thought it was just a way of my mother to make me learn a lesson about taking risks or doing daft stuff which led to getting hurt; but since I survived that time I have learnt that there is a perfectly good reason behind using cold therapies, however there are also warning to heed about how, when and where cold therapies can be used.
First of all, we need to understand that cold therapies such as ice, cold packs, cryotherapies and Sprays are very effective when used at the right time, this is in the acute phase of an injury. The acute phase is the first 48 hours following the injury.
Ice has very good analgesic properties, meaning it’s a good pain killer. There is a lot of science behind how we process and transmit pain including how it can be reduced, a good way to explain it is the pain gate theory.
Viatcheslav Wlassoff explains the pain gate in his Gate Control Theory and Pain Management blog, it explains why we rub it better and how pain travels to the brain to be processed, pain is needed to protect ourselves from further injury.
Cold therapies work to reduce pain by basically numbing the area; therefore, it helps when we experience acute pain, another benefit is that it reduces the heat and
This is all well and good but there are some other factor that you should know about:
Ice should only be applied for a maximum of 10 min especially if the injury is acute, this is because ice reduce blood flow by making the blood vessels constrict.
Do not apply ice direct to the skin as this can cause ice burns, you should wrap in a towel first.
Ice should not be put on very sensitive areas such as the eyes or along the spine.
Do not use ice therapy on areas where there is poor circulation, open wounds or areas of infection.
If you cannot tell the difference between hot and cold around the area you want to treat when your eyes are closed – do not use ice!!!
Bearing these warnings in mind if you pick up an injury within the first 48hrs apply the PRICE principals
P – Protect from further injury (use a support or bandage)
R – Rest (stop doing the activities that cause pain)
I – Ice (up to 10min every 2-3 hours)
C – Compression (helps to limit swelling)
E – Elevation (assists the body drain excess fluid away for the area and reducing swelling)
Corey Pembertons’ blog gives advice on when to ice or heat for muscle pain, this gives tips on how to best apply the correct treatment to that you can use the right treatment for your injury.
Lastly if in doubt or the injury does not settle and start to get better within 3-7 days seek medical advice.