Ice Therapy: An Inexpensive, At-Home Pain Treatment

Icing our injuries is an inexpensive and effective source of pain relief that can reduce inflammation to help your body heal faster, too. Learn more below about the many uses of ice pack therapy for acute and chronic injuries and pain. 

From a fairly young age, most of us learn the basics of R.I.C.E. to treat plenty of common soft-tissue injuries, like sprains and strains. While rest, elevation, and compression are essential healing tools, today we’re focusing on cold therapy. 

You can use cold therapy at home as a virtually free pain reliever that’s so effective it competes with over-the-counter pain medications. Using ice at home may aid healing by cutting down the body’s natural response to injury, inflammation. 

People are also finding other forms of cold therapy, like cryo chamber therapy and cryo stretching, practical tools for treating everything from migraines to mood disorders. 

Learn more below about the many potential benefits of cold therapy and how to safely and effectively try it at home!

What is cold therapy?

Cold therapy, also called ice therapy, lowers your skin’s temperature, helping to heal injuries and relieve pain. 

How? The cold ice causes a reaction in your blood vessels under the skin, so they constrict and get smaller, helping your body slow the pain signals sent from the nerves in an injured area. 

How does ice reduce inflammation?

Ice therapy may also help slow the white blood cells, and blood sent to an injured area, reducing inflammation and swelling. While some inflammation is helpful during the healing process, our bodies often go into overdrive at the time of injury. For faster healing, it’s best to use ice to slow it down. 

Types of Cold Therapy 

  • The most straightforward way to try ice therapy at home is with an ice ball maker and a thin towel or an ice pack - we prefer the cube method, as it produces a more sanitary result than ice packs that may kick around your freezer for years. We keep our ice pack uses limited to our lunch bags. 
  • You can also find coolant sprays used as topical pain relievers, though they won’t improve inflammation.
  • One of the more recent developments in acute injury therapy utilizes ice cups. Physical therapy can’t start in the initial phases of injury, but you can immediately perform an ice cup massage at home. It’s similar to an ice cube or ice pack application, but instead of keeping the ice cup in one place, you massage it around the injured area.
  • Cryo Stretching helps anyone who suffers from muscle spasms; the numbness slows nerve communication and allows for better stretching without the cramps.
  • Some even use cryotherapy chambers to expose their bodies to freezing or near-freezing air for minutes at a time that may improve mood disorders, migraines, nerve issues, and so much more - though the ice jury is still out on its effectiveness.
  • You can even use ice to make an at-home, ice cubes face treatment, an inexpensive skin solution facial that can help reduce inflammation associated with painful acne breakouts. 

When not to use cold therapy?

Anyone with a sensory disorder with trouble feeling cold sensations should stay away from cold therapy, as the lack of signal to damage makes it hard for you to know when to stop. Nerve damage and diabetes can both be problematic for the same reasons. 

Don’t use cold therapy on stiff muscles or joints, as the reduced blood flow will worsen the issue. Anyone with poor circulation should stay away from the treatment as well, for similar reasons. 

What does ice therapy do?

You can use ice therapy to treat acute injuries, overused injuries, and muscle spasms. Pulled, strained, and sprained muscles greatly benefit from ice therapy and any mild to moderate soft tissue impact injuries, like bruises. 

What is the difference between ice and heat therapy?

Both ice and heat have their place in injury treatment, but they have very different uses. 

While ice therapy is better for inflammation, swelling, and acute injury relief, heat therapy is fantastic to loosen stiff joints and soothe muscle pain. 

Heat therapy is similar to ice therapy in that both treatment sessions should last about 20 minutes, and extreme temperatures, either too hot or too cold, can both cause burns to the skin. 

If you notice excessive swelling or inflammation, don’t apply heat, which will likely worsen the situation. 

How To Use Ice Therapy At Home

Ice therapy is one of the easiest things to try yourself at home to reduce pain, inflammation, and swelling. 

There are some potential dangers to ice therapy, too. Beware of ice burns and frostbite, as well as reactive vasodilation, a widening of blood vessels caused by overuse of ice. 

Because ice can potentially be dangerous, you need to follow a few guidelines for safety:

  • You should only use ice therapy in small doses, keeping it on a single area of your body for up to 20 minutes, maximum. 
  • Wait at least 30-45 minutes between ice applications on a single site of the skin to allow it to rewarm properly.
  • Watch for blisters or purplish skin tones and numbing - immediately remove the ice in any of these cases. 
  • Use a clean, dry, thin cloth around the ice to provide a safe barrier for skin application.
  • Avoid applying ice before a workout, as it can cause excessive muscle stiffness. 
  • Reposition the ice periodically to avoid overexposure, or try a moving ice massage. 
  • Consult a doctor before trying ice therapy if you have heart disease or heart conditions. 

Final Notes: Making a Simple Ice Pack

Making an ice pack for your ice therapy session doesn’t have to turn into a mess. Try one of the following:

  • Place an ice ball or crushed ice into a zippered, sealable plastic bag, then wrap it in a thin, clean towel. 
  • You can also make a slushie bag by filling a zippered freezer bag with 50% ice and 50% water. 
  • Use a freezer pack without worrying about bacteria by placing your ice pack in a large, sealable zipper bag, then wrapping it in a clean, dry towel. 
  • To make an ice cup, fill a paper cup with water and place it into the freezer - when it’s time to use, pull the cup out of the freezer, rip the top inch off the cup, and wrap the whole cup in a clean, dry towel. Peel more paper as needed. 

We hope you find some chilly relief using one of these methods!