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Using Ice and Cold Packs

Topic Overview

Ice and cold packs can relieve pain, swelling, and inflammation from injuries and other conditions, such as arthritis.

Types of ice and cold packs

  • Ice towel. Wet a towel with cold water and squeeze it until it is just damp. Fold the towel, place it in a plastic bag, and freeze it for 15 minutes. Remove the towel from the bag and place it on the injured or sore area.
  • Ice pack. Put about 1 lb (0.5 kg) of ice in a plastic bag or ice pack you buy at the store. Add enough water to barely cover the ice. Squeeze the air out of the bag and seal it. Wrap the bag in a wet towel and apply to the affected area.
  • Cold packs.
    • Bags of frozen peas or corn are inexpensive, last 10 to 20 minutes, and mold well to your body.
    • Mix 3 cups (710 mL) water and 1 cup (235 mL) rubbing alcohol in a freezer bag. Seal the bag and place it in the freezer until slush forms. Refreeze the bag when the slush melts.
    • You can also buy cold packs that can be reused. Store them in your freezer. Some of them are designed to wrap around an injured area, such as an arm or knee.e

Using an ice or cold pack

Apply an ice or cold pack to the injured or sore area at least 3 times a day for as long as you have pain, swelling, and inflammation. For the first 72 hours, ice for 10 minutes, once an hour. After that, use ice for 15 to 20 minutes, 3 times a day: in the morning, in the late afternoon after work or school, and about one-half hour before bedtime. Also, ice after any prolonged activity or vigorous exercise.

Always keep a cloth between your skin and the ice pack, and press firmly against all the curves of the affected area. Do not apply ice for longer than 15 to 20 minutes at a time, and do not fall asleep with the ice on your skin.

Commercial cold packs are too heavy and bulky for use on or around the eye. Be careful around the eye to prevent a chemical burn to the eye if a pack leaks.

Credits

Current as of: March 2, 2020

Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:
William H. Blahd Jr. MD, FACEP - Emergency Medicine
Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine
Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine
Joan Rigg PT, OCS - Physical Therapy

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Here are a few additional resources as well:

World Health Organization
Centers for Disease Control

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