The Power of Ice Therapy: How PTs Reduce Pain

Ice therapy on ankle

Ice Therapy in Physical Therapy: Benefits, Uses, and Techniques


Ice has been a very popular tool used by physical therapists for many years. Not only is it used to reduce swelling and inflammation, but it can help patients with a wide variety of issues including pain relief and rehabilitation following an injury. In this article, we’ll explore how physical therapists use ice in practice, the science behind its effectiveness, its potential benefits and uses, the risks and side effects associated with its use, comparisons to other therapeutic techniques, and what qualifications a practitioner needs to provide ice therapy.

What Types Of Ice Do Physical Therapists Use?

Physical therapists use various types of ice in their practice. These include frozen water or ice cubes, gel packs, cold compresses, and crushed ice. They also have different methods of applying the ice to areas affected by pain or injury: circulating it around the area with a bag or towel, laying it against the skin, or using a compression wrap that keeps the cold pressed against the area. The goal of using ice therapy is to reduce pain and inflammation, often referred to as “cold therapy” or “cryotherapy”.

The Science Behind Ice Therapy

Ice therapy works by reducing blood flow to an injured area, which results in decreased swelling and inflammation. This decrease in inflammation can help reduce pain levels and help the body heal itself faster. The cold also numbs the area, providing additional pain relief.

Benefits And Uses Of Ice In Physical Therapy

One of the main benefits of using ice in physical therapy is its ability to reduce swelling and inflammation quickly. This can make a dramatic difference for patients who are suffering from acute injuries such as strains, sprains, and other soft tissue injuries. Ice can also be used to reduce chronic pain associated with arthritis, bursitis, tendinopathies, and overuse injuries.

How Ice Is Applied By A Physical Therapist

Physical therapists use different techniques depending on the type and severity of the injury. Generally, they will start by applying ice to the affected area for 15-20 minutes at a time every 1-2 hours. They may also apply compression wraps or cold compresses to decrease swelling while increasing mobility, range of motion, and function.

Risks And Side Effects

Ice therapy is generally safe when applied correctly. However, there are some risks and side effects to be aware of. Applying ice too long or with excessive pressure can cause tissue damage known as “frostbite”. It is also important to avoid using ice on open wounds or areas of numbness.

Comparisons With Other Techniques

Ice therapy is often compared to heat therapy, which works by increasing blood flow to the affected area. While both techniques can be beneficial for certain conditions, ice is generally preferred for acute injuries and swelling due to its quick action. Heat can be used in cases of chronic pain and stiffness that has been present for a longer period of time.


Ice therapy is a commonly used treatment technique for acute and chronic injuries. It can help reduce inflammation, pain, and spasms as well as increase mobility and range of motion. Physical therapists are trained on the appropriate use and application of ice in order to minimize any risks or side effects associated with its use.