Benefits of Cold Therapy
It is the time of year when people tend to me more physically active – which is a very good thing of course. This increased activity level, however, also can lead to a greater susceptibility to injury. And one of the most common treatments for acute injury is cold therapy, or cryotherapy. So how does cold therapy work?
The application of a cold pack or ice to injuries such as ligament sprains, muscle strains, tendonitis, or bruises creates local physiological changes that serve to reduce pain and inflammation. Reducing the temperature of body tissues circulation constricts local blood vessels and slows circulation, both of which serve to reduce inflammation. Through stimulation of nerve endings in the tissues, which compete with pain receptors, and slowing nerve conduction, cold also has an analgesic effect and therefore decreases pain.
Cold therapy may seem simple, but it is one of the most cost-effective means of treating acute injury. And it is a drugless therapy with almost no adverse side effects when used correctly. The exception to this is for people that have a condition called cold uticaria, which is sensitivity to cold that results in a hive-like skin reaction to the application of cold to the skin.
In cases of acute injury, ice can be applied directly with a cold pack or ice wrapped in plastic. The recommended application time is 20 minutes at a time. The skin should be re-warmed for at least 10 minutes, and then ice can be re-applied several more times per day for as long as needed.
Particularly for people with back pain, sometimes cold seems to aggravate the problem. It is generally OK to use heat instead of ice for back pain, even in the acute stage.
In this day and age where everything seems complicated, cold therapy can be a simple solution to acute injury. Of course, if you cannot control pain with cold or you think you have a more serious injury, see your physical therapist of primary care physician.
Marcia Spoto PT, DC, OCS