We all know that applying ice to an injured area will do us good but most of us don’t realize why this actually helps.
What exactly does the ice do that helps with injuries?
First of all, to be clear, applying ice does not mean that ice has some sort of healing properties, it just lowers the temperature of the injured site. This is the first step to understanding why we apply an ice pack to an injury.
What the cold do though is a lot more biological and the story begins with the injury itself.
What causes an injury?
Imagine you fall down the stairs, or get punched in the face. At the point of impact, your body tissues become inflamed, which is the body’s response to damaged tissues and pathogens.
Your body has got immune cells in all the body tissues which lie in wait for any intruders. These cells are activated when they sense a change in the molecular pattern that is different from that of the host molecules where they lie.
Immediately, these immune cells release various mediators, among them inflammatory mediators which increase the permeability of blood vessels. This is done so that they can release plasma proteins into the tissues around the injured area leading to a swelling.
Other mediators are responsible for increased reception to pain while others cause vasodilation, the expansion of blood vessels so that there is more blood flowing to the site of injury.
Altogether, the effects of the release of these mediators lead to all the signs of inflammation from the swelling, increased heat and pain. This process occurs when the injury does not involve an open wound or bleeding, in which case a different response is set off.
It is also why ice is not applied to injuries with bleeding involved, but rather on areas with inflammation due to the process described above.
Icing commonly known as cryotherapy is a cheap and effective treatment method when trying to relieve pain from an injury. Everyone should know how to perform icing as one of the essential management skills, just as everyone knows how to put a band–aid on a cut.
Icing helps in any superficial trauma of the tissues like bruises, strains, sprains, etc.
However, it is good to know that icing will only help you relieve the pain, but it will not solve your problem as it is not an actual treatment.
Make sure to seek medical help in cases of an injury.
In the meantime, until you get proper medical help, applying ice to the injured area will help you relieve the pain and discomfort.
What does ice do?
While the entire immune response by the body to the injury is essential for preventing infection and to eliminate damaged cells, the process is slow and actually slows down the healing process. For example, the increased pressure within the inflamed tissues keeps them from healing quickly and recovering normal functioning.
This is where ice comes in, by applying ice to the injured site, the blood vessels which were dilated begin to constrict, limiting the flow of blood to the area. This relieves the pressure within the tissue and at the same time slows down the pain mediators to relieve the pain experienced.
Both of these actions help to return mobility to the affected body area and provide room for new cells and tissues to be formed which will replace the damaged ones.
Ice treatment is mostly used when managing acute injuries. Ice packs can help minimize the swelling around the injury, reduce muscle spasm, reduce bleeding into the tissue and reduce the pain as well.
You should be aware not to put the ice directly on the injury. Also, keep the ice packs moving to avoid ice burns. Never use ice on an injury for more than 30 minutes.
Precautions when using ice for injuries
We have already seen how the use of ice is helpful to the body, but there are still some precautions to be taken when making use of it.
First, you should not apply the ice directly onto your skin as this can damage the skin cells further.
Second, do not apply ice for too long, about 15-minute intervals should be enough. Prolonged freezing can cause too much vasoconstriction which will reduce the body’s regeneration of new cells.
Lastly, seek medical attention. Injuries can occur at work, while playing sport, at home or even while dancing or having a BBQ with family and friends. For more detail about these types of injuries visit Pain Physicians.
How to Get Involved
Know how to treat injuries so you can assist those around you.