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Tuesday, 3 October, 2000, 07:09 GMT 08:09 UK
Chilling tale for icepack addicts
Caution advised over frozen pea solution
People who use a packet of frozen peas to bring down the swelling on a bruise or strain could be risking frostbite, say doctors.

Most people associate frostbite with high-altitude mountaineers or polar explorers, but simply leaving an icepack in place for more than half an hour could cause severe tissue damage.

Frostbite happens when healthy tissue is frozen by contact with extreme cold.

When it freezes, blood can no longer flow to the affected area, and flesh begins to die and turn black.

Normally, in mountaineers, the extremities such as fingers and toes are most prone to frostbite, as they have the poorest blood supply - and mountaineers who spend long periods in extremely cold environments occasionally have to have toes amputated on their return.

But wherever frostbite occurs, very often the only solution for doctors is simply to completely cut out the affected tissue, often causing permanent disability.

Doctors from Crosshouse Hospital in Kilmarnock in Scotland, writing in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, wrote about a young PE teacher who treated an injured right foot with a bag of frozen oven chips wrapped in a towel.

Lost feeling

This was left in place for at least 40 minutes, and while the pain from the foot injury subsided, the following day her foot was blackened and painful, and she had lost feeling in some of her toes.

Surgeons were forced to excise a large chunk of dead flesh from the foot, and she sustained nerve damage to two of her toes.

The authors warn that extreme cold anaesthetises the skin, which may be a good idea to beat a painful injury, but also stops the body being alerted to tissue damage going on underneath,

The Association of Chartered Physiotherapists in Sports Medicine say that the maximum safe period of icepack application should be no longer than 30 minutes.

The pack, or bag of vegetables should be wrapped in a damp towel, and that in areas where there is little fat or muscle beneath the skin, should be used only for 10 minutes.

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