How Long to Leave Ice on An Injury

Ice Your Injury Safely

A new report published in the October issue of British Journal of Sports Medicine cautions against keeping bags of frozen vegetables on bare skin for too long because this household remedy, used to treat swelling or other injuries, could backfire.

Researchers at the Department of Accident and Emergency Medicine at Southern General Hospital in Glasgow and at Accident and Emergency Crosshouse Hospital in Kilmarnock, Scotland, highlight the case of a young physical education teacher who used a bag of frozen potatoes wrapped in a towel to alleviate pain in her right foot. The bag sat on her foot for at least 40 minutes and the pain did go away, temporarily. However, researchers say, the foot became discolored and the pain returned. The woman lost feeling in a couple of her toes. After being diagnosed with frostbite, she underwent surgery to treat the permanent nerve damage to two of her toes.

While exposure to cold can ease pain and swelling, ice packs can also stop blood flow if left on the skin too long, researchers say. Ice packs should not stay on the skin longer than a half-hour, and if the only cold compress available in the house is a bag of frozen vegetables, be sure to wrap it in a towel. If the injury occurs in an area with little fat or muscle beneath the skin, such as a toe, take the compress off after 10 minutes maximum.

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