What is Cryotherapy? When do I use ICE or Cryotherapy?

Ice Therapy, Cryotherapy or Cold Therapy are usually used for pain relief and inflammation immediately post injury (acute phase of injury). With ice usage, inflammation, edema (swelling), hemorrhage, as well as how fast your nerves conduct decreases, while pain tolerance increases. Generally, ice should be used throughout the inflammatory process (acute phase of injury). This process typically begins immediately post injury and lasts between 3 to 5 days. Along with ice, individuals may use a technique called RICE.

What is RICE?

RICE stands for rest, ice, compression and elevation. For instance, when one presents with an acute ankle sprain, this technique can be used. By resting, one avoids aggravating the area further, by icing and compressing, one can decrease swelling, and by elevating one focuses on draining swelling back towards the heart. Cold/ICE should be applied during the first 4 hours post injury at intervals of 10 minutes every 30-60 minutes.

Benefits for Using Cold Therapy:

Cold therapy alone has several benefits:

The application of controlled, consistent cold:
• Reduces the temperature in the affected joint and surrounding tissue
• Reduces blood flow to the injury
• Reduces edema or the build-up of excess fluid
• Reduces inflammation in the joints and muscles
• Reduces cellular metabolism
• Reduces muscle inhibition that can cause additional pain
• Helps minimize secondary injury to the cartilage

What cold treatments are available?

The most common form of cryotherapy is ice, however, cold packs, gel packs, compression units (Game Ready), menthol compounds (such as biofreeze) and even vapo-coolant spray are all forms of cold therapy that may be used. One of the most common and arguably the best way to cool down an area is to use a baggie filled with ice/cold water. Some individuals may use a bag of peas from the freezer – which will work as well. At the clinic, we use ice packs, gel packs as well as biofreeze (see below).

What is biofreeze and how does it work?

Biofreeze produces the same sensation of cold that accompanies icing. But unlike ice, biofreeze allows you to remain active during treatment. Biofreeze is classified as a topical analgesics, which work through a counter irritant mechanism. This means that the menthol in Biofreeze creates a sensation that overrides pain signals to the brain. This process is known as Gate Control Theory. Gate Control Therapy is when nerve impulses from one stimulus block the nerves containing pain signals to the brain. Some research studies also suggests that menthol may stimulate cold receptors in the skin that may help regulate pain as well.