To help reduce pain, swelling and inflammation, it is important to place ice on an injured area within 72 hours. Gel ice packs, found in convenience stores as well as first aid kits, make treating an injury away from home quick and simple. Gel ice packs are also leak-proof, non-toxic and can be placed back in the freezer for reuse.
A gel ice pack consists of a heavy-duty, leak-proof polyurethane bag filled with a non-toxic gel that retains cold temperatures when placed in the freezer. When an injury occurs, pull the gel ice pack from the freezer and place it on an injury. The cold gel inside the plastic bag is still flexible enough to conform to an injured area, such as the knee. The non-toxic gel usually consists of propylene glycol, hydroxyethyl cellulose or vinyl-coated silica gel, a thickener and non-toxic blue coloring.
Benefits and Drawbacks
Unlike a bag of ice or chemical ice pack, both which are only good for a few hours, gel ice packs are reusable. Once the gel is no longer cold, throw the pack back in the freezer, wait a few hours and reuse. The polyurethane packaging ensures no leakage while in use and, should a break in the packaging occur, the contents in the pack does not spill out. Some drawbacks of gel ice packs is that it must stay in the freezer or a cooler packed with ice to stay cold. Also, the cooling effects of a gel ice pack may not last too long while exposed outdoors, especially in summertime temperatures.
It's often confusing to determine what type of therapy to apply to an injured area. Dr. Paul A. McElderry advises cold therapy for acute injuries, such as a sprained ankle, and warm therapy for chronic injuries, such as chronic lower back pain. When using hot or cold therapy, Dr. McElderry recommends placing the hot/cold pack on the injured area for 10 to 15 minutes, then removing it for 20 to 30 minutes. Always place a protective barrier, such as a towel or piece of cloth, between skin and hot/cold therapy. Repeat this procedure two or three times a day for a few days.
In addition to providing cold therapy to injured areas, a gel ice pack may also be used to keep lunch boxes cool. This helps prevent refrigerated items, such as yogurt and juices, from quickly spoiling. Gel ice packs may also be warmed to provide heat for lunch boxes, as well as heat therapy to frequently sore areas, such as the neck and shoulders. Follow the instructions to see if the gel ice pack is suitable for heat therapy purposes.