Perhaps this tale sounds more like something you'd see on an episode of "Believe It or Not" about medical mishaps. But in fact, it appears with a very serious warning in the British Journal of Sports Medicine this week. It all started when a 42-year-old physical education teacher developed discomfort in her right foot. As many people would, she took a pack of frozen vegetables, wrapped it in a towel and applied it to the achy area. She fell asleep for at least 40 minutes. When she awoke, the pain was gone, but her foot looked a little red. The next day, the discoloration increased and the pain returned, which her physician treated with a course of penicillin.
One day later things got much worse. She had lost feeling in two toes and her physician sent her to the emergency room, where she was diagnosed with third-degree frostbite. Surgery was necessary to remove dead tissue extending down into her foot--and a skin graft followed to cover the resulting defect. In addition, she suffered permanent nerve damage. Having seen this case, the authors of the journal article don't advise against homemade ice packs but argue that people need to be taught how to use them safely. The Association of Chartered Physiotherapists in Sports Medicine offer these recommendations: first wrap ice or frozen vegetables in a damp towel, and never apply it for more than 30 minutes. In areas with little body fat, such as a foot, limit the treatment to 10 minutes.