Best Icing Method – 5-7 Minutes With Ice and a Wet Paper Towel
ICING: Only 5-7 minutes with ice and a wet paper towel
Just about everyone knows the acronym R.I.C.E. (Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation) when dealing with injuries, especially acute injuries, but the missing part of this is how to ice. As strange as it sounds, there is a best method for icing injuries. The best method for icing an injury is by direct skin contact of bagged ice with a wet paper towel on the outside of the bag.
Before I go on to explain why that is the best method, I want to talk about ice packs. Most ice packs that are reusable from a drug store are at the temperature of your freezer, which is typically below halting. At first this may seem like a good thing because its colder, but there is a risk (low) of skin damage (mild frostbite) with using these ice packs. Additionally, as soon as the ice pack makes contact with something warmer it starts to increase in temperature. After only a few minutes of icing, the temperature of the gel that is in contact with your body is warmer and progressively acts as an buffer for the nevertheless frozen gel. To truly have an effective ice treatment with an ice pack, it needs to keep on the skin for 15-20 minutes.
So now that you know that ice packs are not as efficient and present a slight risk, I will explain why the method I described above is. First, there is no risk of skin damage with ice because its never at halting temperature when its in contact with your skin. The thin coat of liquid water on the exterior of the ice is just above halting and very doubtful to ever cause any skin damage. Secondly, the wet paper towel improves the dispensing of the cold effect, and the moisture from the wet paper towel conducts the move of heat away from the body more efficiently than dry air (ice pack). This is similar to when someone falls in a frozen lake. When treating that person for hypothermia, the first thing to do is to strip them of all of the wet clothes. Of course, you may ask yourself why you cannot simply put the wet paper towel on the ice pack. I have tried this and the ice pack, because its below halting, will freeze the wet paper towel and you lose the effect of the moisture.
Because of the improved efficiency of this method of icing, the time that you have to use with ice decreases dramatically. If the ice is simply resting on the body part, then it should keep there for 7 minutes to be effective, and if you are laying on it you only need 5 minutes. Of course, you can ice longer if you like because there is minimal to no risk of tissue damage.
If you are icing smaller areas or hard to get to places (fingers, toes, pin point spots, etc.), then you can use ice massage with similar effects as the above method. The easiest way to do this is to take a small paper cup, fill it 3/4 with water, and freeze it. Once frozen you can tear off the top half of the cup and use the ice to massage over the specific area. Since the ice is more direct, you should only perform ice massage for 3-5 minutes.
The other point that I would like to make with regard to ice is that it is not only for acute injuries, it can be for chronic injuries in addition. With acute injuries, icing is done to manage pain, swelling, and inflammation, and the purpose is not any different for chronic injuries. Chronic injuries nevertheless have pain, inflammation, and swelling. Plus, chronic injuries have decreased blood flow that reduces the delivery of oxygen and nutrients, which are two meaningful elements of healing. Icing an injured area increases blood flow because the body is trying to warm the area and does this by forcing more blood into the restricted tissue; consequently, promoting healing.
Creating a regular icing schedule (at the minimum morning and evening) for any orthopedic injury helps to manage swelling, pain, and inflammation. It also helps to deliver more oxygen and nutrients to help with healing of the damaged tissue. So go to your nearest store, buy some ice trays, plastic bags, and a roll of paper towels to help treat almost all of your musculoskeletal aches and pains.
If you are aware of any negative responses to cold such as cold urticaria or Raynaud’s occurrence, please consult your dominant healthcare provider.