Injury Management

How to Ice an Injured Ankle

Jeremy Hassler March 7, 2013

You’ve just rolled your ankle. Once the cursing subsides, it’s time to focus on controlling the swelling. Here are your options to ice a sprained ankle efficiently:

Thinkstock Photo

The Classic Bag

The standard sandwich or Ziploc bag that most people reach for works fine. Fill it with ice—crushed, flaked, or pellet for the best conformity to your foot. Leave space to tie it off or zip up. Remove as much air from the bag as possible to improve the conformity of the bag and keep the temperature consistent around the ankle. Place the ice bag over the injured area and then an elastic wrap around the bag and your foot and ankle to provide compression. Ice and elevate the injured area above your heart for 20- to 30-minute sessions several times throughout the day during the first 24 to 72 hours after injury.

The Ideal Scenario

Wet an ace bandage or elastic wrap so it’s damp, but not dripping. Wrap it around your foot beginning at the base of the toes and spiraling up around the ankle and up the leg. Wrap tightly near the toes and more gently as you work your way up the leg. Lightly pinch the nail of one of your toes in with your thumb and index finger so the color in your nail disappears. If color does not return within a couple seconds, the wrap is too tight. This wet base layer improves the conductivity of the ice bag and helps prevent potential freezer burn on your skin. Place the ice bag over the base layer and wrap with a dry layer to hold the ice in place and create compression.

Ice Bag Alternatives

Slush Pack

A slush pack is a simple alternative that is created with a combination of rubbing alcohol and water. The benefits of this method are that it’s more comfortable to wear and conforms to your foot better than regular ice bags. Here’s how to make one:

  1. Combine 1 cup rubbing alcohol and 3 cups water.
  2. Pour this combo into a gallon-sized Ziploc bag.
  3. Slide this into another bag to prevent spillage.
  4. Stick it in the freezer overnight.
  5. Wrap around the injured area the same way you would an ice bag.

Water and Gel Sheets

Water and gel sheets—available at most pharmacies—can be frozen in your freezer and inserted into prefabricated wraps. Most of these products will have same guidelines as ice bags—20 to 30 minutes with elevation—but make sure to follow the directions provided. These can be put back in the freezer and reused throughout the day. If a wrap isn’t included, apply in a similar fashion to the ideal scenario described above to avoid direct skin contact.

Chemical Packs

Chemical Packs are convenient because they cool immediately without needing a freezer. Cold is produced as a byproduct of a chemical reaction in the pack. The danger of chemical packs is a potential chemical burn if the pack were to leak. The temperatures can be inconsistent and the packs cannot be reused. Follow the directions on the packaging.

Game Ready

Game Ready is the Cadillac of cryotherapy. It’s like a souped-up ice bucket that gives you control over temperature, time, and compression. The downside: It’s the priciest option. Plus, you need a physician’s script to pick one up.