As a physiotherapist, I have often been asked about the value of using ice on an injury. Ideally, ice should be applied as soon as possible after injury and treatment continued for 20-30 minutes.
A study by Mac Auley DC suggests that melting iced water applied through a wet towel for repeated periods of 10 minutes is most effective. The purpose of the treatment is to reduce the temperature by 10-15 degrees C to reduce the bleeding into the tissue, prevent or reduce swelling and to reduce pain. Using repeated, rather than continuous, ice applications helps sustain reduced muscle temperature without compromising the skin and allows the superficial skin temperature to return to normal while deeper muscle temperature remains low. This may be repeated every 2 to 3 hours for the next 24 to 48 hours.
More recently there has been debate over whether icing is limiting the body’s natural inflammatory response…. A 2004 literature review on the ability of cryotherapy to affect soft tissue injury healing looked at 22 eligible randomized controlled studies to determine if ice was actually helping, and the results were interesting. They all seem to conclude that ice is beneficial for pain control however not necessarily swelling or range of motion.
It looks like the jury is still out… I think icing, compression and elevation are still the current thoughts and not yet disproven but be careful not to overdo the icing as you do require a natural inflammatory response to make sure you do not delay healing.