• Rest – stop using the injured part of your body
• Ice – the area to reduce swelling, relieve pain and speed healing
• Compression – if possible wrap the injured area with an elastic bandage (Ace bandage)
• Elevation – while you are resting, keep your injury above the level of your heart. For example, if you have a sprained ankle, you want to rest it by lying down and propping your foot up to a level that is higher than your heart. Just sitting with your foot dangling is not as helpful for reducing swelling.
For the first 24 to 48 hours after an injury, which also includes surgery—your body doesn’t know whether your surgery is an accident or on purpose—you want to apply ice to the injured area. Usually, you can apply both compression and ice at the same time by wrapping the ice bag inside the elastic bandage. However, you don’t want to put the ice directly against the skin. Put a wash cloth between the ice bag and your skin before you wrap the bandage. Your doctor or physical therapist will usually tell you how long to keep the ice on the area and how often to use ice. It’s not uncommon to ice as often as every hour for the first 24-48 hours, leaving the ice on for 20 minutes at a time. There is no advantage to leaving the ice on longer than 20 minutes, the healing effects go away after about 20 minutes.
By numbing the area with ice, you can reduce or get rid of pain. Again, 20 minutes should do the trick. Ice bags are great for numbing episiotomy stitches.
You should also use ice after exercise or physical therapy while your injury is healing. Don’t use ice before exercise or physical therapy, as this slows down the blood flow and can cause further injury. Use heat to warm the muscles, ligaments, and tendons before exercise or PT so they can stretch without injury.
Recipe for an Ice Bag
If you have ever been to the drug store to buy an ice bag you know they can be expensive and most likely you will only buy one. So here’s an inexpensive way to make your own ice bag. You should make several so you will always have one ready when you need to ice.
What you need
• 16 oz (2 cups) of water – it doesn’t have to be sterile, tap water will do
• 16 oz (2 cups) of rubbing alcohol – you can get it at the drug store if you don’t have any
• A self-sealing plastic bag that is large enough to cover your injury (one that has a zipper or very tight seal so that it doesn’t leak)
• A marker for writing on the plastic bag.
How to make the ice bag
1. Mark the bag “Contains water and rubbing alcohol. Keep away from children.”
2. Pour the water and alcohol into the plastic bag.
3. Seal the bag—make sure it doesn’t leak—and mix the liquids by squeezing the bag or laying it down on the counter and rolling it around for 15-30 seconds.
Once the bag freezes, it will be slushy instead of hard and can form to your body more easily. Don’t leave the ice bag where kids can get to it. Always put a cloth between your skin and the ice bag so you don’t burn your skin.