It also overrides the pain sensation. “Cold therapy slows down the conduction of pain signals to the brain,” Stiskal explains. “The feeling of cold is preferable to the feeling of pain. It bombards the system with more pleasant things.”

As with heat, you can create cold packs at home. Fill a plastic bag with ice chips, a bottle with ice or cold water or grab a bag of frozen vegetables for an instant cold pack. Prepare your child’s painful joint by drying it. Place a dry cloth over the area to prevent direct contact between skin and the cold pack. Apply the cold pack for 15 to 20 minutes. Repeat the application every one to two hours.

During cold therapy, your child’s skin will pass through four stages of sensation: cold, burning, aching and numbness. Remove the ice pack when your child tells you her skin feels numb. 

Whether or not your child likes cold therapy may depend on her age. “Many young children may not like cooler temperatures and would prefer warmer temperatures, as in a bath,” Stiskal explains. “It is hard to determine how children will respond to cold. Older children, about 12 years old and above, tend to tolerate the localized cold better, and I often use this on the inflamed joints.”

Keep Sensitive Skin Safe

Children’s skin often is more sensitive than adult skin to extreme temperatures. The following tips will help keep your child’s skin safe.

  • Use an extra layer of toweling to prevent direct contact between heat or cold, and your child’s skin.
  • When trying heat or cold with your child, first test it on yourself and then try it with your child in small increments for short periods of time (five to 10 minutes). Apply a few times during the day to determine your child’s tolerance.
  • Check your child’s skin for redness every few minutes. The skin should be slightly pink, as when the child is taking a bath or shower.
  • As with any treatment, consult your child’s doctor before experimenting with heat or cold therapy.