Thursday, February 19, 2015

Effects of Ice Bags

In the athletic training room there are a lot of ice bags that are passed out. Many athletes get ice after practices, workouts, and conditioning. Making an ice bag is the first thing that is learned as a athletic trainer. Ice bags are a well-known treatment used on athletes all over America. Ice bags have some very positive effects that are used to help in pain management and recovery from injury.

When someone gets hurt they damage the individual cells of the injured area. These cells need oxygen to live and when they are damaged they lose their oxygen supply. When they lose their oxygen supply they die. Cell death is bad. The more cells that die, the longer it takes for the injury to heal . Ice is used because it slows down cell metabolism.1 When cell metabolism is slowed down, they can survive for much longer without oxygen.1 When more cells survive than are damaged the less swelling usually occurs. This  leads to faster recovery times.

Another positive effect of ice is that it helps pain management. When ice cools down the tissue to 58°F it slows down superficial blood flow.1 This also slows down nerve conduction velocity. “Activation of cold receptors, slowing nerve depolarization and repolarization decreases the transmission rate of nerve impulses and increase the depolarization threshold, thereby decreasing pain (Starkey, 2013).1” If the pain can be controlled there can be further ranges of motion that are gained and there will be some decreases in muscle spasm as well.2 When the blood flow is slowed down it reduces the amount of inflammatory mediators, which means that there is less inflammation in the injured area.

There is actually some science behind the use of ice bags. It isn’t something that is done in the training room just because that’s the way it has always been done. Something this simple could help increase recovery rates for various injuries.

1 Starkey, C. (2013). Clinical Application of Thermal Modalities. In Therapeutic Modalities (4th ed., pp. 133-137). Philadelphia, PA: F.A. Davis Company.

2Retrieved February 13, 2015, from


  1. As a former athlete, I would love to take ice baths after a hard workout. Would taking an ice bath be better for injuries than just using an ice bag?

  2. Being a fellow athletic trainer, it's safe to say I've made my fair share of ice bags over the years. One thing that always seemed to be a problem though, is the debate on how long an athlete should keep an ice bag on. I was taught using the Draper and Knight modalities book, which stated that cryotherapy should be done for at least 30 minutes, sometimes up to 45 minutes, depending on the amount of adipose tissue and surface area. The other side of the debate was that you shouldn't keep ice longer than fifteen minutes to avoid the risk of ice burns. What are your opinions on the debate?