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Old-School Icing Techniques for my Running Injury

I’m using this summer to get my legs ready to train for the 2015 Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon – Arizona in January. Training will start in mid-September and I want to be comfortably running 18 miles a week by then.

A few weeks ago I did an easy 4-mile run. I felt good, until about 8 hours later when I felt a searing pain in my left post-tibialis (inner calf). It was the strangest thing. I figured I pushed a little too hard (even though it didn’t feel like I did) and I rested it for a few days – but the pain didn’t go away. I emailed my physical therapist who suggested ice and stretching. It was kind of hard to get my gel pack to mold to this part of my leg so I decided to go old school for this.

(My gymnastics family knows I much prefer the suck-it-up-ibuprofen-and-tape approach to injuries and if I’m icing something, it must really hurt. And in this case, I’m thinking about the long game. I’ll take care of myself now to be able to have the race I want in January.)

Ripped Cup

Ripped Cup

I opted to go back to using ice cups instead of gel packs. I learned about ice cups when I was a gymnast. It’s what my club used for the communal ice needs – mostly by the team kids who were there the most and got the most injuries. Ice cups are fairly simple to make – fill a disposable cup (styrofoam or high-quality paper) with water and freeze. My drug store only had styrofoam cups so I went with those. Their smallest package had 51 cups.

Double Cup

Double Cup

I ran into a small a problem right off the bat – the ice ripped through the bottom. I think what happened was the top (not being insulated by the cup) froze first and when the ice at bottom froze and expanded, had nowhere to go but down and out. Paper cups are less insulated by nature and may not have this problem as much – and probably freeze faster.

The solution: add a second cup before using.

Using an ice cup is simple: tear off the top edge of the cup and apply to the injured area is a smooth motion. It’s essentially a big ice cube and the cup protects your hand from getting cold and wet. It’s best to do this outside or with a thick towel folded several times beneath the area you’re icing because it drips a lot. As the ice melts, tear off more of the cup as needed.

Icing my Leg

Icing my Leg

My physical therapist friend reminded me to only do this for 5-7 minutes at a time to prevent frostbite. I’ve frostbitten myself several times over the years (I usually call it an ice burn) and those things hurt like hell.

I can usually get 2-3 ice jobs out of each ice cup so I’m going through about one a day. This makes me wonder how often my club had to make these when people were icing every day.  I’m on the road to recover and hope to be back pounding pavement in the next week.

Going old school with my injury treatment has supplied a nice trip down memory lane. In gymnastics, somebody is always hurt so it was a regular sight to see a team kid sitting the sidelines, moving an ice cup against their skin, with a paper towel soaking up the drips and little pile of styrofoam pieces next to them. Ah . . . fun times.

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