Does your ankle remain weak for three months after spraining it? Do you now refuse to go near rough ground? Do you turn you ankle at least once a week or so and have discontinued physical activities once enjoyed because of an ankle injury? Perhaps all because you improperly cared for a sprained ankle!

Everyone should know how to care forn any sports or athletic injury, including sprained ankles. Read on, beause we'll be discussing one of the more important ways you can help yourself - the use of cold on an acute injury.Cold is wisely used to treat sports and athletic injuries. An important key to treating such injuries involves controlling soft-tissue swelling. The amount of swelling is proportional to the severity of the injury.

controlling of initial swelling reduces recovery time and you can avoid the situations described at the start of this article.

Applying cold decreases swelling, bleeding, pain and inflammation. Cold decreases swelling and bleeding probably because it constricts blood vessels. It relieves pain by the effect of cold on pain receptors and nerve fiber transmissions. Applying cold is preferable to heat in the first 24 to 72 hours after a soft tissue injury. This first aid phase of treatment typically involves applying ice compression, elevation and rest. The duration of first aid treatment depends on the type and extent of injury. less severe injuries with less bleeding and swelling respond more quickly, so minor injuries may require only 24 hours of cold treatment. Most of the bleeding stops within one to three days after the injury.

Cold can be applied by an ice pack, ice bath, ice towel, ice massage and chemicals. Applying ice directly on the skin produces immediately skin cooling. Significant cooling of muscle in thin persons with less than a one-half inch of fat occurs within 10 minutes to a maximum depth of about an inch into the muscle. People with greater than an inch of fat require 20 to 30 minutes to achieve significant cooling of one-half inch into muscles.

Obiviously, the time and depth of cooling depends on the size of the person and the suspected depth of the injury. The greater the amount of pain and/or muscle spasm, the more frequent the cold applications should be.

Unlike chemical preparations, ice may be safely applied to skin for 15 minutes with little danger of frostbite. Wet towels are more effective that dry towels, which decrease the cooling effect because they insulate the injured area.

Ice massage with slow circular strokes for five to 10 minutes causes these stages of skin sensatins: cold, then buring, then aching and finallynumbness. Longer durations of 10 to 20 minutes may produce no additional skin sensations but may increase the cooling response in underlying muscle. Again, the durations depends on the type and depth of the soft-tissue injured. Brief applications until numbness is achieved are effective for conditions such as tendinitis, bursitis or ligament sprains. Longer durations of 10 to 20 minutes can be effective in treating muscle strain.

Ice massage is an inexpensive and often effective home treatment. Two or three daily treatments with ice massage, combined with range-of-motion exercises, are effective for rotator cuff tendinitis, tennis elbow and muscle strain. One problem to be aware of is that many people do not tolerate cold very well.

One reason for highly recommending cold on acute injuries is that no acute spots/ athletic injury exists for which you should use heat first. heat has the opposite effect as cold: it opens blood vessels, expands tissues.

If you never use cold on your injury, chances are you'll be in a situation to use it on someone else.

Alton Thygerson is a professor of health sciences at Brigham Young University.