Ice treatment is one of the simplest and most effective ways of treating knee injuries, when applied correctly. Ice treatment helps to reduce swelling and the resultant pain in the affected area by reducing the temperature of the tissues, which reduces the blood flow to the area. Reduced blood flow creates a numbing sensation that helps to reduce the pain and improve healing. So, how long should you ice your knee? We get that question very often and figured it was time to write about it. Keep reading for more information on how to properly ice your knee.
What is Ice Therapy?
Ice therapy (or cryotherapy) is a form of treatment in which ice is applied to an injured area to stop bleeding, reduce inflammation and pain, and promote the healing process. When a part of the body is injured, the tissues in the affected part become swollen. The swelling has chemicals that fire up the nerve fibers, causing pain and discomfort to the injured person. The swelling also increases the pressure in the area, causing more pain and reducing the range of movement in the joint. Ice therapy can help reduce the swelling and pain in the affected area. As we mentioned above, the cold reduces the blood flow to the soft tissues and joints to reduce the swelling. The analgesic effect of ice also reduces the pain.
When To Use Ice Therapy
For best results, ice treatment should be used immediately after an injury or surgery within the first 3-4 days. However, cryotherapy can also help ameliorate pain and swelling in chronic knee problems such as arthritis. When you want to apply ice on your knee, don’t apply the ice directly on the skin. Make sure you have a dry cloth in between your skin and the ice pack (or equivalent) that you are using to apply the cold therapy.
How Long Should You Ice Your Knee?
Under normal circumstances*, you shouldn’t apply ice for more than 15-20 minutes at a time. Leaving the ice for longer than that can result in skin irritation and/or burn and it can also prevent the necessary nutrients, essential to the healing process, from reaching the area. Another disadvantage of icing for too long is that it can result in the dilation of the blood vessels in the area, increasing the blood flow which results in more swelling in the area.
After applying ice to the affected area for 15-20 minutes, remove and wait for a minimum of 2 hours before applying the ice again to allow the area regain its original temperature. Another alternative is to ice for a few minutes at a time and shorten the interval in between icing sessions to something like 30 minutes.
* In some situations, your doctor/physician may recommend that you ice for longer periods of time.
Options For Icing Your Knee
The great thing about cold knee therapy, is that it can be done in several different forms. Some can be used for day-to-day minor injuries and pain while others (as you go down the list) can/should be used for more serious injuries and post-surgery recovery:
- DIY At Home Options – These can be anything from ice cups (frozen water in a plastic or Styrofoam cup), to a bag of crushed ice or ice cubes, to a bag of frozen vegetables. These are meant for people looking for quick pain relief for minor knee pain. With this option, you are limited to a smaller area.
- Knee Ice Packs/Wraps – Not free, but they are generally low in cost and are designed to specifically treat the knee area, as opposed to the option above which is more of a general all-purpose option.
- Knee ice wraps with compression – Similar to above, and a bit more expensive, except the added compression puts additional pressure on the damaged tissue to prevent fluid build-up and swelling and also gives you deeper cold therapy penetration because it ensures proper contact between the wrap and the injured area. Cost-effective option for medium to significant knee pain and knee surgery recovery. Often used when recovering from a hard physical therapy session, injury or even knee surgery.
- Cryo cuffs – Also known as a knee ice machine, is the most expensive option. These generally consist of a knee cuff, a cooler which you fill with ice and water and a tube that connects the cuff to the cooler. Ice water is circulated through the cuff attached to your knee and the advantage is that the coldness lasts a lot longer. This option is also often recommended for post-knee surgery recovery, however can be more costly.
If there is one thing that we want you to keep in mind after reading this article, is that you should always remember to never to apply ice directly to your skin. Also, ice treatment is not suitable for people with high blood pressure and/or circulation problems. Ice treatment is an effective and simple way of treating knee injuries and is a cardinal component of the R.I.C.E. (Rest, Ice, Compress, Elevate) treatment strategy. When used appropriately, ice treatment is a cost-effective way of controlling pain and swelling in knee injuries and surgeries.
Disclaimer – We are not doctors here at SimplyJnJ and are not qualified to provide medical advice. The information above on how long should you ice your knee was posted for informational purposes only and should not be interpreted as medical advice.