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1320879153162What is cold compression therapy?

Cold compression therapy is a well-established method of therapy that utilizes ice and compression for injury care and pain management. Cold compression is a combination of two principles in the R.I.C.E. protocol (Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation) typically recommended by orthopedic surgeons after surgery. The method of application varies, but the most commonly used products include cold packs and continuous cold therapy machines which conform to the injured area. Cold compression therapy combines the benefits of both types of therapies.

How does cold compression therapy work?

Cold therapy first seeks to lower the temperature of the injured tissues following an injury by constricting the blood vessels, slowing the leakage of fluids into the tissues. Applying cold therapy also slows nerve conduction, which helps to block pain receptors in the brain. While cold permeates tissues and constricts blood vessels, compression (in the form of a brace, wrap, or support) constricts through external pressure. This controls swelling by inhibiting the flow and accumulation of fluids into the tissues. However, swelling is a natural stage in the healing process. Therefore, it is important to note that the goal for injury care is not to completely stop swelling, but rather to control the degree of the swelling to make recovery as comfortable as possible.

When cold is compressed against an injured area, the effectiveness of both therapies are increased. Compression amplifies the skin's contact with the cold surface, so less cold is wasted in dissipation and instead permeates the tissues more efficiently. Compression also helps to more evenly distribute the cold, and helps the tissues temporarily retain a colder temperature even after the application is removed.

When should I use cold compression therapy?

Cold compression therapy is used for acute (sudden) injuries where swelling is present. It is most helpful when applied immediately following an injury and for the first forty-eight to seventy-two hours following. Consult a medical professional to determine which course of treatment is right for you.

Conditions and injuries which may benefit from cold compression therapy include:
  • Sprains and strains
  • Tendon ruptures
  • Fractures
  • Tendinitis
  • Soft tissue injury and bruising
  • Bursitis
  • Swelling (edema)
Why not use heat for my injury?

Heat is helpful in chronic conditions rather than acute injuries. The goal in treating acute injuries is to slow metabolic activity in the injured tissues by constricting blood vessels. However, heat therapy expands blood vessels, increasing circulation to damaged areas. Therefore, heat therapy is not suitable for acute injuries that present symptoms of inflammation including heat, redness, and swelling. Heat is generally used to help relax muscles before exercise, while cold therapy may be used to help relieve pain after exercise.

Cold Compression Therapy Products and Tips

When choosing a cold compression therapy product, look for self-adhering wraps or sleeves with reusable cold pack inserts (usually gel-filled). These types of products conform to the body efficiently and securely and offer a convenient hands-free alternative to traditional ice packs or a bag of frozen peas! They may also be labeled as ice wraps, cold packs, or cold therapy supports. Some cold compression wraps are designed to fit more than one part of the body, such as the ankle, knee, or wrist, and are a versatile choice.

Beyond ice wraps and packs, another option is a continuous cold therapy device. Continuous cooling devices (also sometimes called ice machines) provide cold therapy through the constant circulation of ice cold water through a pad. The temperature remains at a constant, very cold temperature because of the circulation. For this reason, ice machines need to be used with care and under the supervision of a doctor. They are generally reserved for post-surgical care and can be a helpful tool in recovery.

How To Apply Cold Compression Therapy
  • Apply the cold therapy immediately following the injury (even if you opt for a traditional cold pack or ice pack without the added compression).
  • It also may be beneficial to apply the principles of R.I.C.E. (Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation).
  • Always maintain a layer of fabric between the skin and the cold pack to prevent frost bite from occurring. Many cold compression wraps are designed with the cold pack fitted inside the wrap, thus providing a layer of protection. 
  • Always apply ice in a safe and controlled manner. Applying ice for too long can cause problems and delay the healing process.
  • Never apply ice if you have a sensation loss.
  • Length of cold application varies, but a typical regimen suggests ten to twenty minutes per session with at least 45 minutes observed between treatments. Skin should be warm to the touch before re-applying. Always follow any medical instructions regarding cold therapy and use your product as directed.
  • Be sure to apply cold therapy on the injured area and not to the area proximal (above) the injury. Blood flow will divert away from the cold therapy area and could pool in the injured area.
  • Cold therapy should not be used if you suffer from circulation disorders and sensation loss/nerve damage.
  • Never lie on your cold compression pack or gel/ice pack.

Types of Cold Compression Therapy Products

Other Helpful Products
  • Pro-Tec Ice-Up Portable Ice Massager- This hand-held ice massager is a convenient way to combine cold therapy with massage. Vary the pressure and length of massage time according to your comfort level.
  • Braces and Supports- Find the right support from light to firm supports to thermal, and more.
  • Heat Therapy- Perfect for relaxing tense, tired muscles and for pre-workout applications.
  • Magnets- Magnetic therapy has been claimed by many to help increase circulation and provide relief from minor arthritic symptoms.
  • Pain Gels- These topical analgesics provide a soothing experience that provides an added benefit of massage-on application. Choose from warming gels or cooling sensation gels.
  • Exercise products- Helpful products to help you stay active.

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