How to Ice Your Knee
The use of icing for injuries has been documented in ancient Greece, using snow to treat injured areas to reduce swelling. Today, icing is a first line treatment for many injuries and conditions. I recommend it for all my patients after surgery.
How does icing work?
Ice works by causing blood vessels to constrict and lessen blood flow and therefore limit swelling. It also plays an important role to help prevent secondary damage to surrounding tissues. When a traumatic injury occurs, blood flow inherently decreases to the area taking needed oxygen away from cells. By slowing down the metabolic activity of these cells, we limit the amount of oxygen they need and help them survive. It may be this secondary injury prevention that is most important with using ice after surgery or injury.
Could Ice be bad for healing ?
Does compression help with ice ?
How to Ice
Applying ice should follow the rule of CBAN: Cold, burn, ache then numb. When ice is first applied, it should never touch the skin directly, but rather through a thin material. It should feel cold. That sensation of cold will last a few minutes until a mild burning sensation may take over. This then typically tends to fade and the area will feel numb. Once you have reached this level, its time to stop. Continued exposure can lead to injury to your skin, possibly death of the skin. This is KEY to stop icing. Typically a 20 minute period of ice is enough to see beneficial effects. Give yourself at least 30 minutes without any ice before putting it back on again.
Remember to frequently check your skin to be sure you are not over-doing it with ice. This is EASY to do. Before following any particular icing plan, consult with your doctor (my thoughts here are not advice specifically for all situations)
Make your own ice pack
My favorite way to ice falls into the category of cold therapy machines. These are essentially small ice chests with pumps that circulate cold water through a pad. These allow continuously cool water to the desired area. They stay very cold for a long time, and tend to use a lot of ice. Because they last so long, these are perfect if its hard to get up to re-freeze a gel pack. Total or partial knee replacement patients love these.
Of this type of ice machine, the PolarCare Cold Therapy System is super easy to use. For years, insurance companies used to pay for these, but now they consider them the same as an ice pack and will no longer pay. Regardless, patients love these:
The next step down from this in cost is similar in appearance but does not have the motorized system. You simply raise the cooler up to fill the pad on your knee, and after a while, lower it down to drain, then raise up again for a refresh of ice cold water. The advantage is it will not stop working if the pump breaks.
The next option is to use a wrap-around ice pack that provides both cold and compression. There are a lot of these available online and it can be hard to choose. These all provide similar benefits and are simple to use.
The last option is to go for a large gel pack that you can secure wither with straps to your knee, or with an ACE wrap. These come in many sizes, you can make your own as we discussed above, and are inexpensive. Its hard to recommend just one best one. Start by looking at one of these.
Remember, never put it directly against your skin as it can cause frostbite.
PolarCare Cold Therapy Machine
The most deluxe option
Advanced and easy to use
Compression and ice
Compression, support and cold
A simple gel pack
Flexible gel pack
A simple gel pack that conforms easily.