Ask a PT: How Long Should I Keep Icing an Injury?

Iceing AnkleThis is one of the most common questions I hear in my clinic on a daily basis, as well as patients disbelief in the power of icing for more than just 24-48 hours after an injury and in particular after surgery. Part of the body’s healing process is sending inflammatory components to the injury site to begin the tissue break-down and rebuilding process after both injury and surgery. As you progress through the rehabilitation process, every time you increase your activity level, such as returning to school or work, discontinuing use of your crutches or walker, increase your distance in walking, perform trips up and down the stairs, and progress your rehab program into higher level exercises, ice is critical to mitigate the body’s natural inflammatory response to this increased stress to the area of healing. Icing for 15-20 minutes is a powerful way to control this inflammatory response and reduce pain, ensuring that the joint does not lose range of motion, the muscle does not lose flexibility, and the affected muscle does not become weak due to an increase in swelling. Ice is your friend and has no detrimental side effects unlike over the counter or pain medicine. Use it liberally, up to once per hour when you have done too much or increased your program and add limb elevation, and you just may get away with less or no pain in return with a faster recovery.