Cold Therapy: How to Use It Correctly for Acute Injuries

Author Philip Nolan

Dr. Philip Nolan is a seasoned osteopath specialising in tailored, high-quality treatments. His 20 years of hands-on experience and advocacy for osteopathy have earned him nationwide respect.

Cold therapy, also known as ice therapy or cryotherapy, is a popular treatment for acute injuries. As an osteopath, I encounter many individuals who could benefit from cold therapy but may not know when to use it correctly.

Acute injuries are those that have a sudden onset, usually caused by trauma. Sprained ankles, fractured bones, and strained muscles are some examples of acute injuries. In contrast, chronic injuries are those that develop over time due to repetitive stress or wear and tear.

Cold therapy is ideal for acute injuries as it reduces blood flow to the injured tissue, which can significantly reduce inflammation and swelling. It can also temporarily reduce nerve activity, which can relieve pain. On the other hand, heat therapy is suitable for chronic injuries as it can increase blood flow to the area, which promotes healing.

To use cold therapy correctly, follow these steps:

  1. Rest the injured area and avoid using it for 48-72 hours.
  2. Apply ice to the injured area for 20 minutes every two hours for the first 48-72 hours.
  3. Apply a firm elastic bandage over the area, extending above and below the painful site.
  4. Raise the injured area above the level of the heart at all times.
  5. Referral to a doctor is essential as soon as possible.
  6. Do not apply heat, alcohol, or massage to the injured area.
  7. Avoid running or exercise that increases blood flow, delaying healing.

When applying cold therapy, wrap the cold pack in a cloth and apply it for approximately 15-20 minutes at a time. Allow the tissue to recover for about 30 minutes or until the tissue’s temperature has returned to the surrounding tissue’s temperature before reapplying the cold therapy. Apply it on and off as regularly as reasonably possible and always consult a medical professional.

In summary, cold therapy is a safe and effective treatment for acute injuries. Applying it correctly can help reduce inflammation, swelling, and pain. Always consult a medical professional to ensure you are using cold therapy correctly for your injury.

Cold Therapy in a Nutshell:

  • Apply to acute injuries.
  • Apply to the inured area.
  • Never apply directly – apply cold pack wrapped in a cloth, or apply in ice bath.
  • Apply for 15-20 minutes at a time.
  • Allow approximately 30 minutes for the tissue to recover before reapplying the Cold Therapy.
  • Apply on and off as regularly as reasonably possible.
  • Always consult a medical professional.


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