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Tricks of the Trade: Back to the Basics – Ice Towels

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Updated: April 1, 2017

By: Mark Vinson

Maybe you have seen a major league pitcher doing a post-game interview icing his shoulder and elbow.  The Ace bandage usually appears to envelope a large bulky ice pack.  However, did you know that in professional baseball rarely do we use plastic bags for icing; but rather, usually the Ace bandage is securing what we call an “ice towel.”

In professional baseball, the ice towel has been around for decades. The towel provides a larger surface area than the traditional plastic bag. One large ice towel can cover both the anterior and posterior shoulder as well as the scapula, while an additional ice towel can wrap around the entire elbow, eliminating the cumbersome two plastic bag and plastic wrap scenario that we all experienced as student athletic trainers.

The art of making an ice towel is often one of the first tasks that an intern athletic trainer or rookie ball ATC must master. A standard 24″x40″ sideline towel provides the perfect starting point. Crushed or pellet-shaped ice is optimal for making ice towels; however, traditional ice can also be used.

Here’s how:

  1. Place the ice in the middle of the towel. Use an adequate amount to ensure that the ice towel is effective but not so much that you are unable to fold over the corners.
  2. Start with folding the long edge over and then the bottom edge up, so the two edges slightly overlap.
  3. Next fold in the two sides, making sure that they overlap so that no ice is lost on the transfer to the athlete.
  4. The towel is then wrapped on the shoulder and/or elbow using a 6” double length ACE bandage.

Pro Tip: Some athletic trainers will use a strip of athletic tape to help hold the seam of the folds to avoid the dreaded ice towel blowout.

See images below:

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