does ice help swelling

Ice is very often recommended to relieve swelling. But does ice help swelling? Below, we look at some of the evidence about the therapeutic effects of ice.


What Is Swelling?

  • Swelling is caused by inflammation of tissue following injury.
  • As a result of injury, fluid leaks from the damaged small blood vessels which result in swelling of the affected area.
  • The inflammatory process involves increased blood flow to the injured area in order to provide more oxygen and nutrients and to remove toxins.


How Does Ice Help Swelling?

  • The use of ice to treat injuries is referred to a cryotherapy treatment.
  • Ice helps reduce inflammation. It works by causing vasoconstriction (narrowing) of the small blood vessels supplying blood to the injured area. This reduces the amount of fluid leaking from the damaged vessels into the affected joint and tissues and so limits the amount of swelling.


Does Ice Help Swelling?

A review of studies into the effectiveness of ice treatment found the following evidence:

  • Ice therapy for osteoarthritis of the knee reduces swelling. No side-effects were reported.
  • A study of people using ice therapy for gout found that it helped relieve their pain but it did not reduce swelling.
  • Ice treatment is effective for the immediate treatment of soft tissue injuries. It’s is most commonly used for acute injuries.
  • Evidence suggests that ice is effective for ankle sprains. With any sprain, strain, muscle contusions, tears, or bruising there is some bleeding into the underlying tissues. This causes swelling and pain.
  • Ice treatments can be effective for chronic conditions, for example, injuries from overuse in athletes. In this case, ice the injured area after activity as this helps control inflammation. Never use ice on a chronic injury before activity.
  • Ice can also be helpful to reduce swelling of surgical wounds.


How to Use Ice to Reduce Swelling?

To be effective, ice must be used correctly:

  • If you get an injury where swelling is a problem, you should use ice treatment during the first 24-48 hours.
  • Ideally, ice should be applied within 5-10 minutes of injury, for 20-30 minutes. If you leave it on for longer you risk damaging your skin. Repeat every 2-3 hours for the next 24-48 hours.
  • After the first 48 hours, bleeding should have stopped so the aim of treatment changes from restricting bleeding and swelling to remobilization.
  • Ice or cold packs should never be put directly on the skin. Always wrap in a towel to prevent an ice burn



  • If you have decreased sensation i.e. you can’t feel something touching your skin. Lack of sensation can be a sign of nerve damage.
  • If you suffer from high blood pressure (hypertension). Icing works by narrowing the blood vessels which increases the pressure in them.
  • If you have diabetes.
  • If there is an infection.

Does ice help swelling?  The answer is yes, but it must be used correctly and for certain conditions. It is most effective in treating a number of soft tissue injuries, particularly within the first 48 hours of the injury. Consult your doctor when it comes to using ice for your specific needs.