Due to recent events that I won’t divulge, (because they make me sound less than awesome) I pulled both of my hamstrings in the same week. If you have ever had the pleasure of a pulled hamstring, you understand how debilitating this situation can be. The upside was that I re-discovered the awesome power of ice!
Most people already know that ice is good for an in injury, especially if you live an active lifestyle. For me, ice therapy is a new habit that I believe in so much I may start my own infomercial for frozen peas, which are my preferred method of icing an area. After icing my hamstrings for a day and a half, I had enough mobility to function normally with very minimal pain. Not surprising, considering one account I read in Ben Benjamin’s Listen to Your Pain.
“I can remember a young dancer who was anxiously rehearsing for his comeback performance with a large New York dance company. The day before the opening he sprained his ankle and it blew up like a balloon. He could barely walk and dancing seemed a total impossibility. I recommended that he put an ice pack on it for as many hours as he could stand it and intermittently move his ankle. Since this performance meant so much to him he kept the ice pack on almost continuously for 12 hours. To his surprise the next morning he could walk and that evening he was able to dance with very little pain. Although I wouldn’t recommend this course of action to most people, ice can do some amazing things.”
Ice therapy is best used on soft-tissue injuries, so it won’t heal that broken leg. However, it should be applied to almost any injury that includes swelling and inflammation to prevent potential tissue death due to swelling. Do not use ice therapy if you have rheumatoid arthritis, Raynaud’s disease, diabetes, allergy to cold, or other rheumatoid disease because your body responds to cold differently. Below is a simplified approach to ice therapy for an accute injury.
- Decide the best way to cover the area. As I said earlier, my personal favorite is bags of frozen peas since they mold to various parts of the body. You may also use an ice pack or bag of ice cubes wrapped in a light dishtowel, an ice massage (ice applied directly to skin and constantly moving around area), an ice bath (at 40° Farenheit), or a towel that has been soaked in 40° ice water which is good for large areas such as the back.
- Apply ice for 6-20 minutes or until area is numb. When applying ice, it is also beneficial to elevate the area above the heart. This will assist inflammation reduction. Before the area becomes numb, you will experience a few different stages including sharp, prickling pain, but hold in there!
- Move area gently with no weight. Since the area is numb and soft tissue can be further damaged because it is less pliable when cold, use caution in this step. Movement of the soft tissue during the healing process promotes proper healing and reduces the chance of injury in the future because of scar tissue build-up.
- Repeat. Once the area has warmed to normal and is no longer numb, repeat the treatment. Repeat as often as possible within 48 hours of injury.
How does ice therapy work?
Ice initially constricts local blood vessels and decreases tissue temperature. This constriction decreases blood flow and cell metabolism, which can limit hemorrhage and cell death in an acute traumatic injury. After approximately 20 minutes of ice, blood vessels in the injured area then dilate (open) slowly, increasing the tissue temperature, an effect which is termed “reactive vasodilation.” A study reported in the Journal of Orthopedic Sports Physical Therapy, (Jul/Aug, 1994), found that, despite the reactive vasodilation, there was a significant sustained reduction in local blood volume after ice was applied.
via Ice Therapy.