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Do's & Don'ts of Ice Therapies

wellness May 27, 2019

As a fitness coach I have had people ask what they can do more of to improve their health and fitness. Many people listen to suggestions surrounding strength training and nutrition, but flexibility training and recovery techniques are often dismissed. It is however, the balance of functional training, nutrition and recovery that allows us to reach optimal results.

I often say that it is our job as fitness instructors to guide you about when to push through and when to back off. Flexibility and recovery exercises are what help us unwind the tightened and damaged muscles to help us heal and move forward.

Here’s a quick Do & Don’t list for localized icing and ice baths.


Local icing for injury recovery helps decrease pain and inflammation, and enhances healing.


  1. Whether your injury is acute or chronic, ice immediately after you are finished exercising to decrease swelling and begin healing.
  2. Leave ice on for 15 to 20 minutes. Less than 10 and you’re basically cooling the skin but not affecting the underlying muscle.
  3. Ice for consecutive days, and 3 to 5 intervals per day with at least 45 minutes between each session.


  1. Don’t ice for more than 20 minutes or if your skin becomes red or you risk frost bite.
  2. Don’t ice only once, healing requires multiple intervals.



As with localized icing, ice baths help to constrict blood vessels, flush waste, reduce inflammation and stimulate recovery. Ice baths differ from localized icing in that they affect the entire region of intertwined muscle. If ice baths are new to you, like anything you should start slowly, gradually working your way up in time and down in temperature.


  1. Start slowly. The general recommendation is 54 – 60° F and starting higher, gradually reducing a degree or so at a time.
  2. Honor your own cold tolerance and invest in neoprene foot and hand booties to minimize cold sensitivity.
  3. Recognize that if the water is moving the water near the body will be cooler than the thermometer suggests.
  4. Find a cool lake or ocean to simplify things, if available.


  1. Don’t stay submerged more than 6 to 8 minutes. 10 minutes absolute maximum.
  2. Colder is not better. Temperatures lower than the recommended range could be dangerous.
  3. It’s not all or nothing. 54 – 60° F is the coldest recommended range but 60 – 75° F is still therapeutic as you gradually descend in temperature.
  4. Don’t rush off to a hot shower. Allow the gradual increase in body warming.


Remember, flexibility training and recovery are just as important to your fitness regime as anything else.


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