Joint Pain Icing

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ICE is the #1 best and least expensive medicine there is when it comes to joint pain caused by overuse injuries.  Jumpers knee, shinsplints, and inflamed shoulders can often be cured with just ice and some diligence.  Before we got any further, let me state the obvious – I am not a doctor and if you are injured you should seek out one immediately rather than self treating.  What I am talking about here is overuse injuries that slowly creep up on you slowly, not sudden, acute injuries.   With these overuse injuries you just ignore the pain and keep jumping, swinging, and running, till your brain suddenly gets smart and says STOP.  This just happened to me.  Over the last few months I have played a lot of volleyball and both shoulders are increasingly very sore.  I have a recurring problem with the AC joint in my shoulder where an impingement causes inflammation which in turn causes some pretty good pain.  A lot of people take anti-inflammatitories to calm painful joint inflammation but really ice is a much better first line of defense.  Personally I don’t like taking pain medication unless my doctor strongly recommends it, I would much rather just do ice.   If you are going to take Advil, ibuprofen, or equivalent you then PLEASE ice as well.

Why Ice?

The pain in overuse injuries is caused by inflammation.  The inflammation makes things swell up which makes them rub harder against the joint when you move which causes more swelling and more inflammation.  The ice reduces the swelling and gives the joint a chance to heal.  Its a bit confusing because sometimes you hear people recommending heat for certain kinds of pains.  When it comes to an overuse injury though, its *always* ice.  Ice reduces inflammation whereas heat increases circulation.  In the case of overuse injuries its all about reducing the swelling and reducing the inflammation.  I have never, ever heard a doctor recommend heat for an overuse injury .. at least not yet :)

How to ice

icing for joint pain

I wish this was a staged photo but its not, thats why I’m not smiling.   First, you can buy those blue gel freezer packs and they work fine.  If you buy them get really big ones to really chill your joints, no mini ones. I like the ones that weight over a kilogram (2 lbs).  Get at least three of them too because you will be icing quite often and they dont freeze fast enough that you can get by with just one.  Honestly, what I find works just as well and is a lot cheaper is my 2lb bags of mixed frozen vegetables.  Yes, these are the same ones that I use in virtually  every quick meal video that I make.  They stay in place well and are just the right temperature.  The gel packs require a layer of cloth to keep the skin from freezing but because the vegetables are only partially in contact with the bag I find that direct skin contact provides optimal cooling.

How to attach

With shoulders, you can just mold the bags of frozen vegetables and let them sit there.  For joints like knees and elbows you need to use a 4″ wide elastic ace bandage to hold the vegetables firmly in place.  You can also buy gel ice packs specifically designed for knee, ankle, or shoulder.


How often

As far as I am concerned, the more the better.  If you really want to maximize how fast the inflammation goes away I would say every two hours while you are awake which means up to 8 times a day.

How long

More is not better, I like keeping the ice on for ten to twenty minutes.  If your skin gets frozen then you have done something *very* wrong, either you needed more cloth under the ice or you iced for too long.  It can take a month or two to make an overuse injury go away, have patience and stick with it.  Ice is a lot easier than surgery!

STOP anything that hurts

This is the tough part.  If you want the overuse injury to go away you gotta give the joint rest.  Pain means it is swelling and causing more damage.  You need to stop anything that causes discomfort, period.  Consider this a great time to focus on other aspects of your physical fitness program!


Remember!  I am not a doctor, I am just a professional patient passing on what has worked well for me!