The Basics of Icing and Cold Therapy for a Running Injury

By Rick Morris

Icing and cold therapy; it sounds easy and for the most part, it is. But, there is a reason you are using cryotherapy. You’re injured and you are in search of some healing and pain relief or you just finished a hard tempo training run and need an assist with recovery. You want your cold therapy to do its thing quickly and efficiently. You want to make sure you are doing it right. Here are a few do’s and don’ts that will improve the effectiveness and safety of icing and cold therapy for your running injury.

Do Use Cold Therapy

  • Immediately after a sprain or strain. The cold will reduce swelling, pain and muscle spasm
  • After noticing pain or swelling from an overuse injury. Cryotherapy will help decrease pain and swelling as well as assist with healing and recovery
  • To treat strains, sprains and overuse injuries after a run or workout. Cold will keep down inflammation and improve recovery
  • In the form of ice baths as a way to enhance recovery from long runs or very hard workouts

Don’t Use Cold Therapy

  • Before a workout. Cold muscles perform less efficiently and are more prone to injury or re-injury than warm muscles.
  • In an area of previous frostbite or if you are excessively sensitive to cold injury

Do Apply Cold Therapy

  • Intermittently throughout the day. A recent study found that two 10 minute applications of ice separated with a 10 minute rest period is more effective at pain and inflammation control than one 20 minute session.
  • As an ice massage. Move the ice around the injured area rather than holding it in one place. That will make the cold therapy more effective and help you avoid cold injury.
  • As needed throughout the day with about at least one hour between applications.
  • In conjunction with the PRICE guidelines. PRICE is an acronym that stands for Protection, Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation. Following the PRICE guidelines will ensure a complete and effective recovery procedure.
  • In the form of ice, using a light towel to protect your skin from frostnip.
  • Using bags of frozen peas or corn. The plastic bag will protect your skin while the peas or corn will form to your injured area.
  • To a plantar fasciitis or any other injury on the sole of your foot using a paper cup with frozen water. Roll the frozen cup under your injured foot.
  • To assist with recovery from long runs or hard training runs by immersing your body in an ice bath for about 10 minutes.

Don’t Apply Cold Therapy

  • For more than 15 to 20 minutes at a time. Longer sessions can place you at risk of frost nip or even frostbite.
  • More often than every hour.
  • In the form of ice without some sort of protection for your skin.