Cryotherapy, also known as cold therapy, is a common first step to treat muscle strains or overuse injuries, including those due to sports. Doctors can also recommend it as part of RICE therapy, which stands for rest, ice application, compression, and elevation. If you see a physical therapist for sports conditioning or to treat other health concerns, they may educate you on how to properly use cold therapy at home or use it during your office visits to support other parts of your treatment.
Cold therapy is especially useful for acute injury, sometimes in combination with heat therapy. Your doctor may also incorporate cryotherapy into your treatment plan for chronic issues.
Who Is a Good Candidate for Cryotherapy?
Most people tolerate cryotherapy well, which makes it a convenient solution for individuals of various ages and experiencing a broad range of physical concerns. It can be an effective addition to either sports (re)conditioning programs or physical therapy.
Your therapist may recommend an alternative to cryotherapy in the following cases:
- Raynaud’s syndrome, a medical condition that affects blood circulation in the extremities
- Hypersensitivity to cold
- High blood pressure
- Cardiac conditions
If you are applying cold at home, make sure never to directly apply the ice directly to the skin. You should wrap ice packs into a towel to avoid hurting your skin.
Cryotherapy Can Reduce Swelling
One of the key benefits of cold therapy is how it constricts blood vessels and reduces swelling. This can make a significant difference in managing other symptoms you have whether you experience swelling due to a sports injury, a medical condition, or after surgery.
Your provider can recommend compression and elevation to minimize future swelling and help drain excess fluid from an injury site if necessary.
Cryotherapy Can Reduce Inflammation
Your immune system typically reacts to an injury or other health conditions with inflammation, which can cause the blood vessels to expand and the affected area to turn red. Applying cold can counteract your body’s natural process and help minimize the physical symptoms of inflammation whether you are experiencing an acute injury or a chronic condition flare-up. If using cryotherapy for a chronic concern, make sure to speak with your doctor as it can sometimes increase stiffness.
Cryotherapy Can Alleviate and Manage Pain
Cold therapy numbs nerves, which blocks signal transmission to the brain and alleviates pain. Cryotherapy can be a powerful analgesic without the use of over-the-counter or prescription medication. This can be especially convenient in case you need to minimize medication interactions.
Applying cold in the first 24 to 48 hours after an injury is important when treating an acute injury. You can apply ice multiple times a day, but you should always follow the duration and frequency that your physician recommends.
What Happens During a Cryotherapy Session?
You usually do not need to do any preparation before receiving cryotherapy. If your provider has specific recommendations, they can let you know during your initial consultation or when discussing your treatment plan.
Many physical therapists use cold therapy on targeted areas, including as part of sports conditioning. You can expect the application of cold, often in the form of ice packs or as an ice massage, for up to 15 minutes depending on your needs.
During cryotherapy, you can expect to feel discomfort with sensations of cold, stinging, and eventually numbness. You can generally expect to recover your normal sensations in 15 to 30 minutes.
ProFysio Physical Therapy offers personalized treatment plans to support your health in Monmouth and Middlesex Counties. Contact us today at (732) 812-5200 to schedule an appointment!