How To Ice Rotator Cuff? | 3 Effective Ways To Do It + Instructions

Written by on February 15, 2022 — Medically reviewed by John Doe

ice therapy for patient with rotator cuff

From the time of ancient Greeks to modern physical therapy clinics, ice therapy is one of the main treatments for injuries. (1) So, we’ll continue this tradition – here’s how to ice your rotator cuff injuries properly.

There are a lot of tools you can use as a form of ice therapy. But in this guide, you’ll learn the step-by-step of how to apply ice with the most common. Tap on any of them to go straight to the instructions:

How to use an ice pack for rotator cuff injuries?

An ice pack is a common and easy-to-use tool for most injuries. It helps relieve pain and swelling, especially for a recent rotator cuff injury or sudden flare-ups of symptoms.

To apply this, you can use ice cubes or crushed ice and pack it inside a resealable plastic bag.

If those are unavailable, a cold gel or a frozen bag of peas are also a great substitute for an ice pack.

To perform ice therapy with a cold pack:

1) Place an ice pack of your injured shoulder

Always remember to place a thin cloth over your shoulder joint before placing an ice pack. This will make it more comfortable for you to adapt to the cold sensation and avoid skin burns.

2) Keep it in place with a bandage

An elastic bandage is a thin, flexible cloth commonly used as a form of compression therapy.

You can wrap the bandage around your upper arm and shoulder blade to keep it in place. This method is more effective to reduce pain and swelling while adding protection to your shoulder.

3) Leave it on for 10 minutes and repeat every hour

You might feel some symptoms as you keep the ice pack on, such as:

  • Cold
  • Burning
  • Aching
  • Numbness

On a mild level, these are all normal when using any ice treatments. If they get too uncomfortable, remove the ice pack.

How to perform an ice massage for rotator cuff injuries?

Ice massage is superior among other forms of ice therapy on rapidly cooling a painful body part. (2)

Also, it allows you to adapt and apply pressure to the irregular contours of your shoulder as you wish.

You can use an ice cube or make use of an ice cup. Here’s how to do one:

  • Fill a small paper cup with water and let it freeze until it becomes ice.
  • Peel off the top 1/3 of the paper cup.
  • You can hold onto the remaining 2/3 of the cup so that the ice won’t melt in your hands.

Now that you have your ice massaging tool, here’s how to perform the massage:

1) Apply ice in a circular motion around your injured arm

The ice will melt and drip as you move it along your rotator cuff tendons. So make sure you have an extra towel to wipe off the water.

2) Limit to about 5 minutes at a time

As ice is directly applied to your skin, only use it for 5 minutes – this is to prevent skin burns. Also, a longer duration of icing can get messy from all the water that’s melting.

This can help: When is it okay to massage a rotator cuff injury?

How to apply Vapocoolant spray for rotator cuff tears?

The convenience of Vapocoolant spray sets it apart from other treatments. The application would only last for a few seconds and it isn’t as messy as compared to an ice massage. 

It’s frequently used in sports such as basketball and rugby where a rotator cuff tear is common. To apply this:

1) Spray around your shoulder joint

It may be easier to ask for a friend to help hold the spray bottle to about 18 inches away from your shoulder.

Keep your head away from the spray to prevent eye irritation. Then, press the nozzle and spray using parallel swipes for 3 seconds.

Pro tip: Most Vapocoolant sprays contain Ethyl Chloride, which can cause allergic reactions to some. Be careful if you have sensitive skin. 

2) Stretch your shoulder muscles gently

The cooling effect of the spray helps numb your shoulder temporarily.

Within this brief period, you can do stretching and strengthening exercises to soothe your rotator cuff muscles and increase your shoulder movement capabilities.

What is the effect of ice on rotator cuff injuries?

Ice and cold therapy in general help soothe symptoms like shoulder pain, swelling, and tightness.

I highly recommend using it as a form of rotator cuff treatment until 48-72 hours of your injury. (3) It will help manage pain and inflammation by (4):

  • Increasing pain tolerance by blunting nerve sensitivity
  • Lower skin temperature to induce pain relief

Further reading: When is heat is better than ice for a rotator cuff injury?


Is ice or heat better for rotator cuff pain?

Ice is the way to go for a recent rotator cuff injury. Use heat if it has been more than a week. 

What happens if you ice your injured rotator cuff for too long?

Using ice for more than 30 minutes can result in skin burns, temporary nerve paralysis, and poor blood circulation

When should you not use ice?

Do not use ice before physical activity, or if you have poor skin sensation and/or circulation. 

Can ice help heal a rotator cuff tear faster?

Yes, it can. It does so by reducing swelling and pain around your shoulder joint.


So there you have it – 3 simple yet effective ways to ice your rotator cuff.

If done correctly and often, they can improve your body’s ability to recover from any common shoulder injuries, not only a rotator cuff injury.

However, if the pain persists for more than a week, it will be best to visit a physical therapist. This will ensure you do the right treatment and have a speedy recovery.


  1. Sharma, Geeta, and Majumi Mohamad Noohu. “Effect of ice massage on lower extremity functional performance and weight discrimination ability in collegiate footballers.” Asian journal of sports medicine vol. 5,3 (2014): e23184. DOI : 10.5812/asjsm.23184
  2. Sidhu, Amrik et al. “Dabbing the Skin Surface Dry During Ice Massage Augments Rate of Temperature Drop.” International journal of exercise science vol. 1,1 14-21. 15 Jan. 2008
  3. Bleakley, Chris et al. “The use of ice in the treatment of acute soft-tissue injury: a systematic review of randomized controlled trials.” The American journal of sports medicine vol. 32,1 (2004): 251-61. DOI: 10.1177/0363546503260757
  4. Block, Jon E. “Cold and compression in the management of musculoskeletal injuries and orthopedic operative procedures: a narrative review.” Open access journal of sports medicine vol. 1 105-13. 7 Jul. 2010, doi: 10.2147/oajsm.s11102

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