|Are ice packs good for chronic pain? In a word; yes! Depending on your type of chronic pain, ice can be applied to a painful part of your body to reduce inflammation. It is most effective when used soon after pain symptoms start. For those of us with chronic pain, it is an inexpensive and non-drug option.|
If you are like me, and you suffer from chronic pain, then you might want to check if ice packs can help you find some relief. I love that ice packs are an inexpensive option, and in fact you can make your own. I also love that there are no side effects from using them, since they are not a medication and remain outside our body.
Read further for everything you need to know about ice packs.
Ice or Heat?
What is the difference between using heat for pain or using ice for pain? Actually there are specific situations for one or the other. Healthline.com states that in general heat should be used for muscle pain or stiffness. A perfect example of this is when I would use a heating pad for my menstrual cramps.
Ice on the other hand is indicated for acute injuries or pain as well as inflammation and swelling. Those of us with chronic pain do not have acute injuries per se, but may have inflammation associated with our chronic pain. My pain affects the nerve in my buttock, so I can treat that pain with an ice pack.
I generally end up using both heat and ice. My pain is related to inflammation and I have muscle pain, so both modalities can provide some relief. I usually use ice earlier in the day as I sit at my desk, and heat later on to relax my painful muscles.
How Do Ice Packs Reduce Pain?
The cold of the ice acts on the tissues and blood vessels to reduce the flow of blood. If there is swelling or inflammation around the tissue then the cold would act to constrict the blood vessels and control inflammation. The cold also acts as a numbing agent, so that the nerves aren’t sending pain signals to the brain.
Ice packs truly are a natural anesthesia. Therefore, you should experience some pain relief, if only for a short time.
Ice packs can also reduce muscle spasms, which is something I never thought about them doing. This is a little known application for ice packs. I’m storing that in my brain for future use.
I also researched about foods that can help with inflammation. One is Tart Cherry Juice. See my article here.
For What Kind of Pain Are Ice Packs Indicated?
Although I am writing specifically for those of us that have chronic pain, ice is actually indicated immediately for a new injury to reduce swelling and pain. See previous section for the reason this is the case.
In fact, for acute injuries, first determine if you need to go to the ER or see a doctor. If not, then the acronym RICE is what you should follow. RICE stands for Rest, Ice, Compress, Elevate. An example of an injury that would qualify for this treatment would be a sprained ankle.
But they can also be used for painful areas on the body that are inflamed. This would include areas of the body affected by arthritis. Also ice is helpful for strains and nerve pain. That is where I use it, to treat my buttock pain from my spinal stenosis.
A word of warning! Ice should be applied to the body through a barrier like a towel. Never should you let ice touch your skin. It can cause tissue damage by giving you frostbite. Also, do not leave ice (with towel) on any one area for more than 10 – 20 minutes at a time. You can reapply after a one hour interval.
Circumstances Where You Should Not Use Ice Packs
Don’t use ice packs if:
- You have a heart condition, don’t use on the left shoulder
- Never put ice around the front or side of your neck
- Skin area is damaged or sensitive to cold
- You have diabetes
- Site is infected
What Kind of Ice Pack Do You Need?
One of the first features you should consider regarding an ice pack is where you will be putting it. Make sure the ice pack will cover the area you want to treat.
If you are like me, and want to save money, then you probably already have an ice pack in your freezer. Almost any frozen vegetable in a bag will work. The classic one is a bag of frozen peas. But any small frozen food can work. That’s a great way to go in an emergency. It is also good for assessing if cold therapy will give you some pain relief.
Another cheap option is making your own homemade ice pack. All you need is rubbing alcohol, water and two plastic freezer bags. Here’s the steps.
- Use 1 cup rubbing alcohol to 2 cups of water. Fill the bag with them. Seal it while pressing out as much air as possible.
- Put this in a second plastic bag to prevent leakage.
- Freeze for at least one hour before use.
This bag can be reused again and again.
Lastly, you can purchase ice packs. Several come in a wrap around pillow with straps to anchor the pack to your body. This is a great feature which allows you to move while icing. Others are gel packs of varying shape and size, which require you to use a towel to protect your skin.
These gel packs from Walmart can actually be used for heat therapy also! Check them out here on the link I have for Walmart.
If you purchase through this link I receive a referral fee.
And here’s a wrap around with straps from eBay, where I also get a referral fee. It can also be used for hot and cold.
Ice packs can help you manage your pain in a natural way. They can be used to relieve strains and nerve pain, and I highly recommend you give one a try.
Let me know if you have questions or thoughts. You’ll be helping all of us in our pain journey.
I am not a doctor or health care provider. Please see your physician if you are concerned about using an ice pack for your pain.