Cold Therapy (Cryotherapy) for Pain Management
Cryotherapy literally means cold therapy. When you press a bag of frozen peas on a
swollen ankle or knee, you are treating your pain with a modern (although basic) version
Cold therapy can be applied in various ways, including ice packs, coolant sprays,
ice massage, and whirlpools, or ice baths. When used to treat injuries at home, cold
therapy refers to therapy with ice or gel packs that are usually kept in the freezer
until needed. These remain one of the simplest, time-tested remedies for managing
pain and swelling.
Using cold therapy
Cold therapy is the "I" component of R.I.C.E. (rest, ice, compression, and elevation).
This is a treatment recommended for the home care of many injuries, particularly ones
caused by sports.
Cold therapy for pain relief may be used for:
Lowers your skin temperature.
Reduces the nerve activity.
Reduces pain and swelling.
Experts believe that cold therapy can reduce swelling, which is tied to pain. It may
also reduce sensitivity to pain. Cold therapy may be particularly effective when you
are managing pain with swelling, especially around a joint or tendon.
How to apply cold therapy
Putting ice or frozen items directly on your skin can ease pain, but it also can damage
your skin. It's best to wrap the cold object in a thin towel to protect your skin
from the direct cold, especially if you are using gel packs from the freezer.
Apply the ice or gel pack for about 10 to 20 minutes several times a day. Check your
skin often for sensation while using cold therapy. This will help make sure you aren't
damaging the tissues.
You might need to combine cold therapy with other approaches to pain management:
Rest. Take a break from activities that can make your pain worse.
Compression. Applying pressure to the area can help control swelling and pain. This also stabilizes
the area so that you do not further injure yourself.
Elevation. Put your feet up, or elevate whatever body part is in pain.
Pain medicine. Over-the-counter products can help ease discomfort.
Rehabilitation exercises. Depending on where your injury is, you might want to try stretching and strengthening
exercises that can support the area as recommended by your healthcare provider.
Stop applying ice if you lose feeling on the skin where you are applying it. If cold
therapy doesn't help your pain go away, contact your healthcare provider. Also, you
may want to avoid cold therapy if you have certain medical conditions, like diabetes,
that affect how well you can sense tissue damage.