When Frostbite Strikes

Author’s note: I am trying to be funny {and make fun of myself} but also serious at the same time. Use caution when icing!

“I have frostbite”, I said to one of my running buddies.

She looked at me, looked outside {it was 96 degrees}, and looked back at me. Obviously puzzled.

Let me explain: I have frostbite on my foot. From over-icing.

As a runner I’ve been icing various parts of my body for more years than I can remember. I’ve taken more ice baths than I care to indulge. And I’ve used everything I can get my hands on, including but not limited to: frozen water bottles, bags of peas/corn/lima beans, frozen paper cups and ice packs.

Never, not even once, have I come close to giving myself frostbite.

Until now….

I had no idea I could get frostbite or an ice burn from icing without something between my skin and ice (towel, sock, etc.). Is it just me, or does it seem like a bit of an oxymoron – if I’m trying to treat an affected area, why would I place something in between?

Well, I guess getting frostbite would be a pretty good reason to use a sock or towel.

Frostbite HURTS! Like really, really hurts. I could barely walk for 3 days. My foot doctor freaked-out when I showed him {he said that the affected skin would never be the same}. And moving forward, I have to be extra careful when icing. All that from a little ice pack.

You better believe I’ll be wearing a sock in the future.

One of 2 affected areas

Well… {ha}, I never thought I’d be writing this post in the middle of the summer but since one never knows when frostbite will strike, I’ve included some {frostbite} tips & tricks*. Always use protection when icing!

Examine the Affected Skin
If you suspect you have burned yourself with an ice pack, begin by visually inspecting the area and evaluating the extent of the damage. If the skin is tingling and red, you can safely proceed with home treatment. Also, if the area is numb, but you experience a pins-and-needles sensation as it begins to warm, you have not sustained permanent damage and can continue with self-care. However, if the area is white, cold and hard when you touch it and if it then becomes red and swollen as it warms, you need to seek professional medical assistance. This type of injury is generally followed by the formation of blisters and permanent “bruising” or skin discoloration, which indicates lasting damage and possible destruction of the blood vessels.

The affected areas need to be rewarmed, but this must be a gradual process or you will unintentionally inflict further harm on already delicate tissues. Submerge the burned skin in lukewarm water, between 104 and 107 degrees Fahrenheit. Do not move or massage the damaged areas, as this can cause subcutaneous ice crystals in the tissue to move and do further damage. Leave the injured skin underwater for 15 to 30 minutes, or until the skin is pink, soft and pliable again. If the temperature of the surrounding water drops below 100 degrees Fahrenheit, reheat it and resubmerge the affected area. This thawing process may be painful. An over-the-counter pain medication, such as ibuprofen, may be taken to ease discomfort.

Once the skin surface has returned to a normal temperature, apply a generous coating of aloe vera or honey to the burned area and cover it loosely with gauze. Both of these substances help the skin to retain moisture and increase the rate at which new skin cells are formed, decreasing recovery time for burn victims.

In the future, should you feel the need to place an ice pack on an injury to help reduce the swelling and inflammation, wrap the pack in a towel first; do not apply it directly to the skin. Leave it in place for 10 to 20 minutes at most as any longer application drastically increases the risk of injury.


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  1. I am actually really happy you posted this, because I, like you, always thought it was weird to cover the spot I am trying to ice, so I go without the towel or sock…I will now be listening to the warnings and the people around me and put a towel or sock or something between me and the ice!

    I hope it is feeling a little better now!!

  2. you also have to be really careful if you have raynauds (which I do and it sucks!)

  3. Ironically I am icing the EXACT same area of my foot that you just posted at the very moment I am reading your blog. Weird. I've had ice burns (but never frostbite) and it hurts. It's great that you posted this blog because I think that so many runners have a high tolerance for discomfort and will ignore the early signs. I'm also a big fan of an ice massage with the ProTec Ice Up device, you keep moving it so you won't get ice burn or frost bite.

  4. I gave myself frostbite several years ago icing my Achilles tendon without a towel. The icing also affected the skin/fat/tiny muscle at the bottom of my calf, and it just like…died. After icing it was numb, jelly like, and then tingled. I was like, huh? And then it dawned on me: I had just given myself frostbite. I felt so stupid; I didn't tell my wife or anyone else for like two weeks.

    Apparently parts of the body lacking significant fat layers (feet, nose ears, achilles) are susceptible to frostbite.

    A mistake I have only made once.

    It will eventually heal and you will have a funny story.

  5. Whoa! Scary. Thanks for the PSA.

  6. Oh my gosh! Now that you say it, it makes sense that you can give yourself frost bite, but how very strange! Hope it gets better soon!

  7. What a painful lesson! I usually wrap my ice packs but I'll make sure to always do it after reading this.

    Heal quickly.

  8. OMG! I love your blog. Love that you will run for margaritas…..we would get along. I like to run TO margaritas. I work out then have a little fun. Haha.

    PS – Sorry about the frostbite. I didn't even know it was possible!!

    Get Up & Go

  9. Woah! I didn't know that was possible. I'm going to be more careful now too!

  10. OMG! I never would have thought about that! Thanks for the warning – hope it feels better soon! So sorry! I ice all the time too!

  11. Thanks for sharing and yes, towels are important but I will be sharing this with dear hubby because he is more of the rule-breaking kind of guy.

    Another point, only ice for 20 minutes (or less). You can repeat cycles of 20 minutes on, 20 minutes off. This is for reasons beyond frost bite….concern here is blood clots. Perhaps I will pay closer attention to the clock after reading your post. Guess those safety warnings are for a reason.

  12. I just had the most delicious margarita yesterday- pineapple banana!! SO GOOD! Whats your fave?

  13. Wow I had no idea you could give yourself frostbite with an ice pack, ouch!

  14. Holy Crap, that is totally bizarre. I always ice with no sock and am always forcing my friends to do the same….. I will take note!


  15. um….woozer…ouch…and good grief!

  16. Melody, I just suffered a frostbite injury from an ice pack today, and I am freaked OUT! I was using an ice pack (directly on my skin-no barrier) to alleviate a neck strain from overexertion per my Chiropractor’s advive. I am not sure how it happened, but it happended so fast – 20 min! I nerver even felt it until my skin was tingling, waxy and a purple/black color! I knew it was frostbite right away. It is still burning and hurting like heck even now- 10 hours later! I sought Medical treatment and all they did was apply bacitracin zinc ointment and gauze- and tell me to “watch out” for blisters…uggh, I am so worried its going to develop into a huge swollen blister and never return to my natural color- and it’s on my shoulder/neck area. How long is this going to take to heal?
    But the kicker is still- All This From a Little ole’ ICE PACK! Whoaaaaa, they should have Bold Print Warnings on those Dang Things! Wish I would have read your blog before this, I guess you live and you learn, uh?

    • Oh no! I hope you are feeling better! I know it’s always a bit of a shock – but I will let you know that everything (my foot) is back to normal with no signs of the frostbite. My doctor advised me to be extra careful with that area from now on, so I would say that same to you. And always use a towel 🙂 Good luck – I hope you have a speedy recovery!

  17. Thanks for scaring me enough to go to the doctor! I’ve got an appointment in two hours. Last night I strained my achilles on a run. Got home and iced it, with no barrier as usual. Took off the ice pack to reveal my skin was frozen. White and hard. Ugh. It’s been extremely painful as I tried to warm it back up with a bucket of warm water. This morning I was debating going to the doctor, until I read your blog. Wish me luck!

  18. My regular doctor wasn’t in, so I was left with what appeared to be the worst doctor ever. He said I have frostbite, or “thermal burn” and I should just forget about it. He said there’s no treatment for it. When I questioned him as to if I may have done permanent damage, he said “probably not.”


    • That’s annoying – sorry! I didn’t get treatment either, but did use Neosporin. Future advice – just wear socks or use a towel between you and the ice. Hope it feels better soon 🙂

  19. Will do. Thanks. Big blisters tonight. Ironic that I’d probably still be running, had I not iced it. Ugh.

  20. Pretty sure I did this yesterday as well. My knee is burning pretty bad today and is red and fairly warm to the touch. I was a little concerned but this discussion is making me feel fine about it.

    I was icing some inflamed bursa around my knee, probably had it on for about 12 minutes and it had just gotten to that numb stage I shoot for. I felt the skin and moved the skin and fluid underneath around a little and it almost felt a little slushy, which I thought was weird.

    I’ve used ice quite a bit in the past and never had any problems or worry about icing too long but also realizing physiologically it’s counterproductive to leave it on much over 20min.

  21. I put a ice pack today on my thigh(quad) with compression wrap around it-
    now I have a hard red giant square on my thigh! It’s been hours but it won’t go away! How long did yours take to go away?
    It’s swollen but I took Advil. Should I do anything tonight before I go to the doctor in
    18 hours?

    Thanks for your help!

    • I hope you’re thigh is starting to feel better! It will be painful for a couple of days and then it will go away. You probably don’t need to go to the doctor (just my opinion) – there’s not much they can do (and the doc will tell you to be more careful next time and to never apply ice/pack directly to the skin). Take some advil, grab a glass of wine/beer (it’s Friday night), and just be more careful next time 🙂

      • Thanks! I really hope this goes away fast as it is huge(10cm by 4cm)! The thing is it doesn’t really hurt( a bit numb) unless I touch it and then it burns a bit…The quad pain (reason for icing), seems to trump the burn in the amount of pain altogether!

        All the redness, just went away- no scars etc?

        I’m just hoping to get some strong cream at the doctor.

  22. Just did this on my knee super freaked out. I made a ice pack of two parts water one Part rubbing alcohol bad idea, this gets colder than ice. My knee was pale white and I warmed it with a warm wet towel. Now it’s red and itchy .

  23. For those of you putting a sock or towel between your ice pack and your skin, you are dramatically affecting the cooling of the skin and the effectiveness of the icing. However, the simple solution is to wet the sock or towel. Water will conduct the cold vs insulate the area from cold. Cold packs, especially the instant cold packs, are dangerous because they can get colder that ice so it is important to put a barrier between the skin and the pack. The safest solution is ice in a damp towel and as long as the towel stays damp and does not freeze, this will tell you that the cold pack in not cold enough to cause damage. For small areas I prefer an ice massage – the ice massage will push the cold deeper, as the ice melts on your skin it provides a small insulation value protecting your skin from freezing because water in liquid form is not cold enough to cause permanent damage to the skin – if Ice massaging follow C.B.A.N – cold, burning, aching, numb – this is what you will feel, first cold then burning then aching then numb. Once numb, stop the icing or stop at 5 min either way and repeat in an hour…

  24. Hi Melody. Great post and great picture. I have the exact same bruising pattern on the same part of the same foot. I was so surprised and relieved when I saw your pic. Now I know I’m over icing and should use a damp cloth between me and the ice. I have a separate question. What were you icing for in the first place? I’m having an issue with the outside of my left foot right where the peroneal tendon and 5th metatarsal connect. Does this sound similar to the injury you had? Thanks.

    • Hi Luke! Hope your foot is okay. I was icing for some arch issues – I was training for Boston Marathon at the time and all of the miles had my foot aching. I did a lot of Graston & ART too. Have you tried that before? It helped a ton!

  25. That’s the start of a blister. You don’t have frostbite.. seriously?

  26. Hi everyone. Very glad to have found this thread. I had a sore spot on my chest just under my collar bone so I put a gel ice pack on it and laid on my back to keep it steady. Then I lost track of time – probably 45 min passed.. When I finally took the ice pack off, the area was red and cold, but it warmed up and seemed fine as it adjusted to room temperature. Then I ran my hand over the area and realized that I had some slight numbness at the skin layer. The muscle underneath is fine. . The skin never blistered or got black or anything like that. It’s just a slight numb spot – reminds me of the feeling when you are at the very end of Novocain. It’s now been a week, and that numbness is still there. Any idea how long it takes for the numbness to go away. I feel like the skin on my chest was more vulnerable to ice burn bc it’s more thin than say, a calf muscle. I’m a little freaked out that full feeling hasn’t returned

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