Cold facts about ice for injuries

Sprains and other sporting injuries are very common when, like me, you’re an elite athlete. Well, assuming you don’t put much store in the term “elite”.

You see, last week I injured the ring finger on my left hand when goalkeeping in a fiercely fought final of indoor soccer (we lost). And, after running around and yelling a bit, I applied the usual first aid many of us use in these cases: I kept it elevated with an ice pack on it for a long time – pretty much until the ice melted.

Photo of a medicinal ice pack
Photo of an ice pack, courtesy Wikimedia Commons. I didn't have the foresight to take photos of my injury at the time, and by now there's nothing to see.

Sitting there in this awkward position, I started wondering: is this the right thing to do? What does science have to say about applying ice to injuries?

Well. There haven’t been many studies on the topic, and most of the papers published seem to be from a handful of researchers. But the gist appears to be that ice may help with pain relief, but the evidence is not overwhelming. And it should only be applied intermittently, rather than continuously.

So don’t entirely abandon the standard first-aid approach of RICE – that’s rest, ice, compression and elevation – but don’t rely on ice to be the main component. And, as recommended by the Better Health Channel, apply ice for only 10-15 minutes every 2 hours, separated from the skin by wet towelling.

And of course if it continues to get worse, see your doctor.

Some references on icing injuries, listed from newest to oldest:

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2 thoughts on “Cold facts about ice for injuries

    1. No, and not what you’d call a resounding condemnation either. But a huge contrast to the over-emphasis we all tend to put on icing injuries – I guess because it’s a tangible thing you can do.

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