You should always consult your doctor of chiropractic before using ice because he or she understands your individual medical needs. Ice is an effective pain reliever in acute injuries and trauma that causes muscle strains and sprains of ligaments or tendons. Ice can also be very effective for acute joint injuries. Swelling and bruising can be reduced with the application of ice. Ice can relieve pain of gout and some headaches including migraine headaches.
Ice works by decreasing blood flow and making nerves less sensitive to pain. Inflammations from trauma can be reduced by ice because the cold slows the inflammatory response. Chemical reactions involved in inflammation happen slower if you decrease the temperature of the injured tissue. The conduction of pain is also slower when the nerves are exposed to cold. Blood vessels constrict when they are exposed to cold and this can decrease swelling as well decrease pain emanating from blood vessels.
A general rule is that if the pain is sharp, burning and new, ice will be helpful. Ice or cold gel packs should be wrapped in a light moist cloth so the ice is not applied directly to the skin. The ice should be applied for 15 to 20 minutes on large body parts but caution should be taken to avoid frost bite, especially on the extremities.
Certain conditions contraindicate the use of ice. Patients with Raynaud's, Berger disease, cold urticaria and some peripheral neuropathies should not be exposed to ice or other cryotherapies. Extra caution should be used in patients who have impaired sensation, impaired circulation, angina, arrhythmias, and other serious cardiac conditions. Hypertension may be a contraindication to the application of cold therapy. Areas that are sensitive to cold such as old frostbite areas should not be treated with ice.
In rare cases, ice can flare up some conditions including low back pain. This is usually caused by trigger points within the muscles that tighten up when exposed to cold. Sometimes patients have to actually try ice to see if they benefit from this therapy because every person and every condition is unique.