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Inline secrets from the world's top skaters and coaches

This week's tip:

Ice for Injuries
How to use ice to treat common skating injuries

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By Nadine Currie Jackson

Using a cup for icing and injured ankle

A cup of frozen water makes ice massage easy.
Photo: Nadine Currie Jackson


Tell an injured skater to try icing, and you're liable to get the cold shoulder. "I don't like to ice," they often say. "It's cold and uncomfortable."

True enough. But it's also one of the best ways to treat many common sports injuries. Cold therapy (also known as cryotherapy) reduces inflammation and pain and can speed up the healing process. On top of that, it's easy and cheap.

When To Ice

Icing is effective in the treatment of both acute and chronic soft-tissue injuries, including bruises, sprains and pulled (or just sore) muscles. In fact, it's good for just about any injury that involves inflammation.

Signs of inflammation include redness, pain and warmth. But these are also symptoms of infection. So if you have these symptoms and haven't experienced some kind of trauma, consult a doctor immediately.

How to ice

There are lots of ways to ice. You can apply ice packs, frozen towels, gel packs or bags of frozen peas. Or you can take ice baths or jump in a cold-water spring. (Brrr!) But my favorite method is to give myself a localized ice massage, which is quicker than an ice pack and less jolting than an ice bath.

An easy and effective way to give yourself an ice massage

  • First, freeze water in a Styrofoam cup ... or, if you want to get fancy, make a water popsicle. (I always make sure to have a few ice cups in my freezer in case of emergencies.)
  • Once the water is frozen, tear off the top edges of the Styrofoam to expose some ice.
  • Using the remaining Styrofoam as a handle, apply the ice to the injured area. Have a towel handy to mop up the water from the melting ice.
  • Massage the area gently, using a continuous circular motion around the affected area. Work your way to the center of the injury, keeping the pressure light.
  • Offset the cold (if that's a problem) by wrapping yourself in a warm towel or blanket, sit in the warm sun or sip a hot cup of tea as you ice.

How long to apply ice

Some experts recommend icing for 10 minutes; others say more is better. I go by how it feels. When treating clients, I ask for feedback. Use the C-B-A-N rule as your guide:


  1. When the cold is applied you will feel an immediate sensation of
    C: cold
  2. The next sensation will be
    B: burning
  3. Followed by
    A: aching
  4. And finally
    N: numbness

Immediately remove the ice once you feel numbness. This is very important because the next stage is F: frostbite! Not a good thing because it can damage lymphatic vessels and destroy nerve and other soft tissues.

Ice reps

I usually apply ice at 45-minute intervals. Once the injured area is numb, I remove the ice and reapply 45 minutes later. I do this for the first few hours after an injury. This allows me to reduce inflammation without popping pills.

Sensible precautions!

If you are suffering from a medical condition or taking medication, please consult your doctor before icing.

Here's what the book Cryotherapy Theory: Technique and Physiology has to say on the subject:

"Avoid cryotherapy if you have any of the following conditions: areas of loss of sensation, circulatory disorders, open wounds, tissue metabolic disorders, frostbite, if your medication causes thermoregulation problems, hypersensitivity to cold, cardiac disease and regeneration to peripheral nerves."

Got that? Good. Now go to the fridge and get your ice cups ready!

Oct. 23, 2009

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Debbie RiceNadine Currie Jackson has been a researcher and educator at the college and university level and a clinical massage therapist since 1996.  She has helped a wide variety of athletes over her career.  Nadine was a short track speed skater and won several medals at national and north american events and is now hopelessly obsessed with inline speed skating.





Related reading:

Skate Tip of the Week Archive
Beginners Guide to Outdoor Racing
Beginners Guide to Inline Skating




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