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How Do Ice Packs Reduce Swelling?

Thursday, 22 April 2021  |  Paul

If you've ever had an operation or have suffered from a serious injury, you'll know that even as your body heals the pain can be unbearable. By applying an ice pack to the affected area, you can simultaneously relieve the pain and discomfort while increasing the rate of healing.

For something as straightforward as ice or a cold compress, it's fair to wonder how it can bring so much relief. We've created this guide on How Ice Packs Reduce Swelling so that, the next time you're in discomfort, you'll know exactly how the ice pack works in tandem with your body to help alleviate the pain.

How Do Ice Packs Work?

How Do Ice Packs Work?

Ice therapy, also known as cryotherapy or cold therapy, is the process during which pain is alleviated by applying ice or a similar cold object. By icing the injured limb for a set amount of time, it provides the following benefits:

  • Reduced Swelling: When applied to the injury, the ice pack decreases the blood flow to the area. In turn, this reduces the swelling or inflammation, relieving pain while allowing your body to focus on restoring your body.
  • Numbing Effect: The cold temperature of the ice pack numbs the surrounding area, which means that you're less susceptible to feeling the pain. This makes it more comfortable for you while the injury continues to heal.

Simply put, ice packs reduce swelling by numbing the pain and reducing blood flow to decrease the inflammation. Together this helps to relieve the discomfort and encourage healing.

What Pain Can I Treat with Ice Packs?

Ice packs are a reliable choice for treating a wide range of injuries and conditions, but is most effective for newer injuries, where swelling is usually at its most prominent. Ice packs work best for acute injuries, which occur suddenly. Examples include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Bruises
  • Fractures
  • Sprains (e.g. ankle sprain, wrist sprain)
  • Strains (e.g. muscle strain, tendon strain)
  • Tendonitis

Can I Just Use a Bag of Ice from the Freezer?

Using ice from your freezer and wrapping it in a tea towel is a traditional method of icing an injury. However, this can get messy as the ice starts to melt, and there's an increased risk of the ice coming into direct contact with your skin – which will only worsen the pain!

Instead, ice packs, cold packs, cryo units, and cooling bandages are all becoming increasingly popular as mess-free and reusable approaches to ice therapy at home. To see our top picks for reusable ice packs, please see further down the page.

How Long Should I Apply the Ice For?

Ice should not be applied to the injured area for more than 20 minutes at a time. It is advised that this is done either once an hour for 20 minutes, or to apply it for 20 minutes and then rest for 20 minutes.

Is Icing Better Than Heat Therapy?

Icing is better for some injuries than heat therapy. Ice packs are useful for the indications mentioned further up the page, where acute injuries have caused swelling and inflammation. Conversely, heat therapy is better for chronic and non-inflammatory pain, such as arthritis or stiff joints.

Our Top Picks for Ice Packs

Keeping an ice pack to hand at all times is a great way of ensuring you don't need to suffer in pain for too long before you can begin applying the cold therapy. Below is a small selection of some of our top picks for cold packs. You can find more of these in our Rehab Cold Therapy and Reusable Ice Packs categories.

Ice Packs for Specific Areas

Ice packs that are designed to conform to specific parts of your body are going to target the cold therapy more effectively. Dura Soft Ice Packs include a range of ice wraps and packs specifically designed for your foot, ankle, shoulder, and more. 

Dura Soft Ice Pack Wraps
Ice packs that conform to the injured area
target cold therapy more effectively

Versatile Hot and Cold Packs

If you suffer from a condition that would benefit from heat therapy, then opting for a hot and cold pack allows you to apply cold therapy to acute injuries, and heat therapy to non-inflammatory injuries. This way, you can be prepared for virtually any pain. We recommend the TheraPearl Hot and Cold Packs and the Relief Hot and Cold Pack for a reliable and versatile hot and cold therapy pack.

Reusable Hot And Cold Packs
Reusable hot and cold packs offer
a versatile approach to icing

Ice Packs for Children

Nobody likes to be injured, but the experience can be more traumatic for children. By providing an ice pack with a cute and fun design, such as the TheraPearl Hot and Cold Children's Pal, it can help to cheer them up while working to relieve their pain and discomfort.

TheraPearl Children's Ice Pack Pal
The fun design of the TheraPearl Children's Pal
can help to cheer up a distressed child

Cryo Cuff Therapy

When it comes to more controlled icing, the Aircast Cryo Cuff range is our top choice for cold compression therapy. The Cryo Cuffs are designed to conform to specific parts of your body for optimal benefit, and operate similarly to a blood pressure monitor as the motorised unit adjusts the compression. You can view the full Cryo Cuff compression therapy range here.

Aircast Cryo Cuff Unit For Cold Compression Therapy
The Aircast Cryo Cuff offers motorised
cold compression therapy

Hopefully you won't need to use an ice pack any time soon, but if you do then we hope you've found this useful. If you have any questions about our ice packs, please don't hesitate to let us know in the comments, or find us on Facebook and Twitter.

Tags: Ankle PainCold Therapy, Health and Care Expert Series, Rehabilitation

Shop Our Ice Packs


Aircast Calf Cryo/Cuff and Cold Therapy Cryo/Cuff Cooler Saver Pack
  • Includes the Calf Cryo/Cuff and Gravity Cooler
  • Cooler provides up to eight hours of cryotherapy
  • Combines cold therapy and compression
  • Helps minimise swelling and reduce pain

Dura Soft Foot & Ankle Ice Pack Wrap
  • Provides superb continuous cold therapy to the foot and ankle
  • Easily shapes to the foot and ankle for a comfortable fit
  • Takes the guesswork out of correct ice therapy positioning
  • The choice of professionals - better than a bag of frozen peas

Dura Soft Shoulder Ice Pack Wrap

The Dura Soft Shoulder Ice Pack Wrap has two ice inserts. This shoulder ice pack is designed to provide continuous cold therapy to the shoulder.


Koolpak Instant Ice Packs
  • Instant ice pack provides instant pain relief
  • 29cm long - bag size is ideal for wrapping around injuries
  • Takes only seconds to activate
  • Ideal for emergencies, sports, and first aid kits.

Relief Reusable Hot and Cold Pack
  • Single Hot and Cold Pack to treat a variety of injuries
  • Reduces swelling and provides temporary relief
  • Clear instructions for simple heating or chilling
  • Reusable; use as many times as needed

Sissel Hot Cold Pack with Cover
  • Hot and cold pack to relieve muscle pain
  • Ideal for home or clinical first aid use
  • Capable of delivering either hot or cold therapy
  • Protective Velcro cover included to limit intensity

TheraPearl Hot and Cold Children's Pals
  • Effective hot and cold therapy for children
  • Perfect for soothing bee stings or for reducing swelling
  • Easily freeze in your freezer or heat in your microwave
  • Fun designs that kids will love contour to skin for optimal relief