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Are Instant Cold Or Gel Packs As Good As Ice?

Instant chemical cold or gel packs are among the items that most experts say should be included in a well-stocked first aid kit.  Applying ice to an injured ankle is universally accepted as best practice by athletic trainers and other health care professionals immediately after acute ankle injury (1), among other sports injuries.
Applying chemical ice pack to ankle

But, while instant cold or gel packs are easy to store and are more convenient than ice, experts urge caution when applying chemical cold packs because the below-freezing temperature and direct exposure to the skin can cause tissue damage. Because ice doesn't get as cold, it is safer, and thus preferable to cold or gel packs.

Thus, to reduce the risk of injury, a barrier, such as a wet towel, should be applied to the skin when using a chemical cold pack. (1)

1.  Kaminski TW, Hertel J, Amendola N, Docherty CL, Dolan MG, Hopkins TJ, Nussbaum E, Poppy W, Richie D. National Athletic Trainers' Association Position Statement: Conservative Management and Prevention of Ankle Sprains in Athletes. J Athl Tr 2013;48(4):528-545.

Updated July 1, 2013