How to ice an injury properly

Proper application of ice isn't comfortable, but the results outweigh the temporary discomfort
Most runners know that quick application of ice following an athletic injury helps reduce inflammation. If you stop inflammation early, you don't have to deal with it later. The application of ice is often misunderstood, so the results are often inconsistent.

After injury, follow the PRICE rule

Following athletic injury, the acronym PRICE should be followed. Protection, Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation.

Compression, such as an ACE bandage, and elevation of the injured area (when applicable) reduce pooling of blood, which will diminish inflammation.

Heat should not be used for the first 72 hours due to resultant vasodilation, which promotes tissue swelling. Heat is normally used after the acute phase (72 hours) to dissipate blood pooling that occurred.

For ice, follow the CBAN rule

Ice application should follow the acronym CBAN: Cold, Burn, Ache, then Numb.

Ice should only touch the skin if an ice rub is used. Otherwise, a thin fabric should be placed on the skin to buffer the skin from the ice. Yet, the ice must be perceived as cold when placed on the injured area. Proper application of ice isnt comfortable, but the results outweigh the temporary discomfort.

This cold sensation will last approximately three to five minutes until a burning sensation appears. The burning sensation will fade into an ache, followed by numbness. Beware that once numbing occurs, remove and discontinue the ice. Continued application following numbing may result in tissue damage.

Sprains and strains

To treat most sprains and strains, put two scoops of cubed ice in a towel, fold and apply to the injured area with an ace bandage for compression. Shaved ice placed in a plastic bag can be easily shaped to fit around the injured area. Ice rubs can be used as well. Simply freeze water in a cup and peel away the upper edges, or use an ice cube and rub the injured area in a circular motion for the appropriate time.

Length of application

The tissue thickness of the injured area determines the length of the ice application. Knees require 15 minutes, while thicker tissue, such as the quadriceps and hamstrings, requires 20 minutes. Thinner tissue, such as ankles and feet, requires approximately 10 minutes. Dont exceed the appropriate time frame.

Allow one hour following numbing before reapplying ice. Ice should be used up to three days following the injury.

Proper, timely use of ice speeds recovery and helps the athlete return to activity.


Curt Blakeney is a freelance writer based in Arizona. Zig Ziegler is the founder and CEO of Motion DNA (www.motiondnacorp.com), a Scottsdale, Arizona-company that tests and researches the biomechanics of athletes.

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