How to Ice Your Knee the Proper Way

How to Ice Your Knee the Proper Way

The pain is excruciating. Sometimes it's a dull ache from a throbbing knee, and other times it is a sharp pain stemming from just under the knee cap. The experts say you should put some ice on it, but have you ever wondered how to ice your knee? 

When you ice your knee, you need to protect the skin first. Then place an ice pack or bag of ice over the protective layer and directly on the area that hurts. Keep reading to learn all the tricks and tips for how to ice your knee effectively.

How to Ice Your Knee Effectively

Whenever you feel a twinge in your knee, you can help yourself out by slipping some ice on your knee. Not icing your knee properly can cause damage instead of healing your body. 

First and foremost, you need some kind of a barrier between the ice pack and your knee. Do not put ice directly on your skin. If you have pants on, the material from your pants will form enough of a barrier to protect your skin. 

You can sustain an ice burn if you apply ice directly to your skin. Know how long to leave ice pack on knee injuries. The right amount of time can lead to knee pain relief. 

What Is an Ice Burn? 

Ice burns look and behave like other burns. You can compare an ice burn most to sunburn since it is usually superficial and changes skin color. 

The affected skin will most likely turn the skin colors. Certainly, ice by itself will make your skin turn red. An ice burn, however, will look different. 


An ice burn will turn the skin bright red, white, or even yellowish-gray. You may also notice a change in feeling if you sustain an ice burn. Your skin may feel numb, itchy, or tingly. 

If you have a deeper, more extreme burn, you will feel pain, and your skin may even blister. At its worst, the skin will feel unusually firm or waxy. 

To avoid an ice burn, put a barrier between the ice and your skin. Never put the ice directly on the skin. 

What About an Ice Bath? 

An ice bath is different than directly applying ice packs to your skin. With an ice bath, you fill a tub with a combination of ice and water.


Athletes typically use ice baths as a way of preventing injuries. After a particularly challenging workout, an athlete might soak himself from the waist down in an ice bath. Ice baths do not have the same risk as ice packs do directly on the skin. 

However, ice baths are typically therapeutic in a preventative sense. They prevent injuries. Some even question if they effectively reduce inflammation. 

Still, athletes claim they feel better and recover more quickly from a workout when they sit in an ice bath for fifteen minutes or after the workout. Thus anecdotal evidence says that an ice bath may help reduce inflammation. 

Does Icing Your Knee Help

Icing is the most natural way to care for a hurt knee. In conjunction with the right type of therapy, ice can reduce the swelling and inflammation in your knee. 

You need to do more than ice your knee when you injure it, though. Most doctors, trainers, and physical therapists refer to the R.I.C.E. method of therapy. 

R stands for rest. This means that you do as little as possible with your knee. You rest it by taking time away from your sport or the activity that caused the injury in the first place. 

The I stands for ice. This refers to the ice therapy we've been talking about with the ice pack protected by a barrier and then placed on your knee for short periods. 

C stands for compression. The inflammation and swelling will go down with the combination of ice on the joint and then some compression material squeezing the joint. You should consider putting a compression sleeve on your knee as you ice it. 

E stands for elevation. As you need to keep your injured knee elevated if you want to see the swelling go down and want to see your knee feel better more quickly. 

What is P.O.L.I.C.E.? 

The newest methods of therapy have added some letters to the R.I.C.E. method. They call it P.O.L.I.C.E., which stands for protection, optimum loading, ice, compression, and elevation. This applies to sprains, tendonitis, back pain, and any type of contusion or bruise. 

So while you still need to ice, compress, and elevate, the newer methods of therapy encourage the injured party to not over rest the joint. The muscles could shrink and grow weak, making recovery take that much longer. 

Instead, physicians are now saying a person should protect the injured knee. Protection means you could use a knee brace that keeps the knee joint in check. 

Optimum loading refers to strength training. This means that you let that joint rest for a short period after you injure it. Then you gradually move on to bearing some weight on the injured joint to help the body heal more quickly. 

When you bear some weight by putting optimal loading on the joint, then you build up the muscles that support the injured joint. Stronger muscles will then help stabilize the joint and allow it to heal more quickly. 

Muscles, tendons, ligaments, and bones all need some amount of weight on them to trigger the healing process. 

Go Slowly to Heal Quickly

The key to success in this process lies in going slowly. You incrementally increase the movement and the weight on the joint. You need to be able to discern the difference between pain and discomfort at this point.

Then, force yourself to push through discomfort. Never ignore pain, though. The difference between pain and discomfort varies from person to person. 

Pain means you're sweating and your heart is beating hard. Discomfort is just uncomfortable but not distressing. 

Once you've protected the joint and then worked it, then you use ice, compression, and elevation to reduce inflammation.  

How to Use an Ice Pack on a Knee

You understand the basics now of how to ice a sore knee. You put a barrier between the ice and the skin to protect the skin, and then you apply the ice. 

But knowing how to ice a knee injury still takes a bit more know-how. You need to understand some of the critical mistakes people make when they throw that ice on their achy joint. 


Applying Ice for Too Long

We've already talked a little about how long to ice an injury. If you leave ice on a knee too long, it can cause these types of burns, even with a barrier present. 

Putting ice on your knee for too long will do more than just harm your skin, though. It can prevent your joint from healing as quickly.

Once you feel pain in your knee or sustain some type of injury, apply ice as soon as possible. But then only apply it for ten minutes at a time. After ten minutes have passed, take the ice off and wait another ten minutes before you apply the ice again. 

When you wait between icings, you allow the ice to get cold again in the freezer as well. Also, when you give your joint a break from the ice, the tissue begins to warm up. 

Unless you have a serious injury, you should not have to continue an ice regiment after the first 24 hours following the injury. If you ice your joint correctly, you should feel relief within that first day. 

To avoid frostbite or an ice burn, consider the area where you are icing. If you're icing an area without much fat or muscle under the skin, like directly on your knee, you should ice for less time. 

You can still ice the joint frequently. You should just have a shorter duration of icing time. 

Inadequate Rest

Icing by itself will not fix the injured joint. Even if you follow icing instructions perfectly, you need to rest the joint that you just injured or the joint that aches all the time. 

Do not bear weight on your injured knee for 24 to 48 hours after you sustain an injury. This short amount of time will give common and small injuries a chance to heal. 

If you did a real number on the knee and sustained more than a mild sprain, you will need to consider calling a doctor. The first 24 to 48 house is the most critical time to determine if you have a serious injury. 

You might be tempted to try to suck it up and head back out on the field where you sustained your injury. You will put on a brace and strap it tight thinking that this should hold things together until the activity is over. 

However, attempting to play with an injury rarely leads to something good. It usually results in a longer-term injury and more time away from the activities you love. 

Slacking Off

Sustaining an injury is a traumatic event. Maybe you slipped and fell on the ice. Perhaps you had a linebacker take out on the football field. 

Whatever the nature of your injury, mental trauma can be just as debilitating as physical trauma. You may be tempted to do nothing but rest for a long time. Do not let your mind win you over. 

Complete inactivity can prevent your body from healing as quickly. A long time of complete immobility will lead to weaker muscles and stiff joints. 

This is where the "O" of optimum loading comes into the therapy regimen. A physical therapist will give you appropriate exercises to get you moving again. Do what the therapist says, and push yourself a bit.

Lying Flat

To increase blood circulation, you must do more than just lie flat. You need to raise your knee above your heart. Increased blood circulation means the joint and muscles have more blood and thus will heal more quickly.

If you ice the joint, you're eliminating pain and reducing swelling but not facilitating healing. If you want the joint to heal, elevate it. 

Neglecting Compression

To take full advantage of all of the other parts of the POLICE method of therapy, you must compress your joint. Find a sleeve or a basic knee brace that compresses the tissue so that the swelling stays down. 

If you do not have adequate compression, the knee will continue to swell. You need something tight that hugs the joint. With swelling comes pain, and then you'll be back to the same inactivity you had at the beginning of the injury. 

How to Ice Knee After Replacement

Knee replacement surgery is an intense, invasive procedure. It requires a big incision, and the surgeon will surgically remove bone and cartilage. He digs around in the knee to take out the bad tissue and then replaces the tissue with an artificial knee. 

So icing your knee after knee replacement is critical to healing. 

Many people will either rent, borrow, or buy an ice machine.

This machine has a sleeve that wraps around the knee. A tube stretches from the sleeve to an ice machine. The machine then pumps iced water through the tube and into the sleeve, keeping the ice water circulating so the knee is both compressed and iced at the same time. 

Because you have the barrier of the sleeve, the question regarding how long to ice knee injuries no longer applies as much. You can keep the machine on your leg for a longer duration than if you had just a basic ice pack. 

You will have to wear a knee brace for at least six weeks after you get your knee replaced. Even as you wear a brace, you will want to ice your knee. Compress, elevate, and ice that knee exactly like your doctor tells you to. 

Once you have an ice machine like this in the house, you will find you can use it in multiple ways. You can use it when treating arthritis pain in your knee or shoulder. 

Apply Ice and Stay Calm

Now that you know how to ice your knee, you can move confidently in your favorite activities. Should you injure your knee, just follow the basic instructions and stay calm. 

If you're looking for some cold therapy or necessary aids to help with a knee injury, contact us. We'd love to help. 


  • Joyce Atkinson

    Do you ice and elevate at the same time or ice first and then elevate after

  • Ed Dezura

    How long can I leave the ice bandage machine onto my knee after replacement. .do I do 15-20 minutes every hour ?? Can you tell me a time frame
    Thanks you

Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published