Where exactly did the ice pack come from? This article provides a short history of the humble ice pack which has been assisting in pain and injury management for over half a century.

The use of natural ice

Ice and the act of cooling the body has long been used by physicians to treat inflammation and pain. In 400 BC, Hippocrates wrote “cold water is to be applied in the following cases; when there is a haemorrhage, or when it is expected, but not applied to the spot, but around the spot whence the blood flows; and in inflammations and inflammatory affections”. This Hippocrates quote provides fascinating evidence of just how important ice has been in medical history. But when did we starting packaging ice and freezing gels?

Chemical cold gels

Although refrigeration was introduced to American households in the 1920s it was not until 1971 that a Long Island pharmacist named Jacob Spencer filed a patent for a reusable pack which conformed to the body, what we now commonly refer to as a gel pack. The patent specified “A hot and cold compress comprising a tough flexible sealed envelope, and a neutral gel within.” Spencer is also responsible for the universally recognised ‘peacock blue’ coloured dye of the gel pack we know today.

Today’s ice pack

Today the humble icepack has been refashioned to better conform to the body and often not requiring refrigeration. There is now a range of new ice pack concepts on the market. For example, ice wraps require refrigeration but conform to the body making it possible for the patient to remain relatively active whilst applying the product. On the other hand, the CoolXChange bandage also conforms to the body but does not require refrigeration to provide low level cooling to the site of the injury meaning the patient remains mobile and is able to apply the product for a longer period of time.

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