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Cold Therapy

Cold therapy refers to these whole series of treatments that utilize ice or low temperatures to treat acute injuries. Acute injuries generally comprise of sudden, sharp and traumatic injuries, usually sustained through unintentional, unforeseen circumstances and mishaps. One of the most commonly observed examples is ice packs, which we get to see all the time on sports channels of injured athletes icing their ankles, or knees, with ice packs or commercial cooling wraps. But it’s not just the professionals who use it. In fact, this practice is one of the oldest known methods of pain relieve for everyone. Mothers and kids alike know that ice may help reduce swelling from a bruised knee or teething pains.

Here, we shall attempt a closer understanding of cold therapy, otherwise known as cryotherapy. It works primarily on the principle of heat exchange. When a cooler object comes into contact with an object of higher temperature, the cool object would “absorb” the heat, and the warmer object would consequently be cooled. A good vivid example of this is putting ice from the freezer against your skin.

This principle is the crux, and also determines what kind of injuries would benefit most from such treatment. From sports, or accidents at work or on the road, individuals often sustain large forceful impacts on their physical body. These in turn, cause damage to the blood vessels, and even the bones or nerves. Cells around the injured region would thus be induced into a state of heightened metabolism to “gasp” for more oxygen in a bid to survive. When the oxygen is depleted, the cells die. Due to damaged blood vessels, oxygen cannot be properly delivered, and blood and body fluids seep out into the injured region’s spaces. Such an occurrence results in what we term as swelling, or bruises. How then, does cryotherapy benefit the onset of such injuries? When ice is applied onto the region, surrounding temperature is quickly decreased through heat exchange. Firstly, this allows the localized blood vessels to contract. This slows down the metabolism and the consumption of oxygen by the surrounding cells, thereby reducing the extent of damage. Ice can also numb the nerves, hence lessening the “pain” messages sent to the brain, and thus achieving pain relief.

At present, most therapists and doctors are of the professional opinion that acute injuries are the most suitable and appropriate for ice treatments. Chronic injuries are slow to develop, unstable onsets, and most likely leftover from an untreated acute injury. More importantly, chronic injuries could also be implications of other causes such as thyroid or cancer. They are also usually sore, nagging muscle or joint pains that would stand to benefit better if heat therapy was utilized to stimulate better blood circulation.

Cold therapy can be performed on different levels with various tools, from ice cubes in the freezer to commercial cooling wraps. Therefore, it may be more convenient and wise to purchase a commercial product, such as a gel-based cold pack or COLDONE ice wrap, should you be an athlete, a trainer, or actively involved in physical exercises.

If you are applying cold therapy for yourself or on others, here are some reminders and precautions. When applying ice treatment, each icing session should be about 15 minutes to avoid “biting” the skin. You should ideally wait for the skin of the affected region to regain normal temperature before you apply ice again, although it is ok to ice the injury several times a day. Lastly, ice treatment is the most effective when applied as soon as possible upon injury, and continued over a period of 48 hours of 15-minute intervals. Remember: conditions vary so it is always advisable to seek medical opinion on your choice of treatment and duration.
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"I know I’ve found a new key to my post-ride recovery. After each ride, I take a recovery drink with me into the shower, clean off and then put the ice wraps on while I cook and eat."-- Phil Gaimon, 24, rides for Kenda Pro Cycling

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