ryotherapy, which is more commonly known as cold therapy, is a treatment technique people have been using for thousands of years. From the time of ancient Egyptians until the present day, the procedure has seen improvements and we now have machines to benefit from ice therapy more effectively either at home or at clinics and spas.
We have localized ice therapy and whole-body cryotherapy to pick from nowadays. But what exactly is this therapy suited for? When do specialists recommend cryotherapy for pain management and other benefits? Learn this and more there is to know about cold therapy by continuing to read this article.
*Note: In this article, we will use the abbreviation WBC for whole-body cryotherapy, and PBC for partial-body cryotherapy.
Whole-body cryotherapy implies that the individual enters a chamber that is chilled by vaporized nitrogen. The temperature generally spans from -200 to -300 degrees Fahrenheit. The treatment lasts for 3 to 5 minutes.
Partial-body cryotherapy implies the application of ice packs, ice therapy machine wraps, ice massage, or ice spray on a specific area of the body.
What Is Cryotherapy?
Cold therapy is a treatment where your body is exposed to very low temperatures. It is segmented into two broad categories depending on coverage, namely WBC and PBC. PBC is more commonly used and most people who have sustained injuries or are looking for muscle tenderness relief perform the treatment at home. With the best ice therapy machine, you can apply cold directly to the area you want to treat without requiring professional supervision. Alternatively, you can utilize an ice spray or ice packs to apply the cold treatment to the affected area. As long as you don’t surpass the 30-minute mark when it comes to preserving the area cold, there is no need for a specialist’s guidance or intervention.
From WBC, on the other hand, you can only benefit when you go to a wellness center, spa, or clinic that has the cryo-chamber needed for the procedure. The whole body is immersed in it, and the session length is much shorter because of the low temperatures you are exposed to. However, since the whole body welfares from the therapy, this novel technique is deemed more beneficial for athletes post-workout.
Cold Compress to Wrist
What Is Ice Therapy Recommended for?
Healing sports injuries: Every 2-3 hours, you should apply an ice pack or use any other form of localized ice therapy on the injured area. Make sure that you cover the skin with a towel or any other material to avoid an ice burn, and limit use to 15-20 minutes at a time.
Healing soft tissue injuries: For the first few days after the injury, until the skin doesn’t feel hot in that area and the swelling tones down, apply ice for approximately 20 minutes once every 2-3 hours.
Reducing inflammation: Since ice constricts blood vessels and decreases blood circulation in the area where it is applied, it works wonders for decreasing inflammation. Because of this, it is appropriate even for chronic inflammation cases.
Help with delayed onset muscle soreness: It reduces muscle spasms and pain through vasoconstriction, helping alleviate pain related to musculoskeletal injuries.
After orthopedic surgery: Rehabilitation is much quicker if you apply ice to the area that has been operated on. Cold therapy is all the more indicated in this situation since it decreases inflammation and alleviates pain, limiting your reliance on medication to make it through the post-surgery period.
To treat bursitis: The bursae are the fluid-filled sacs that are generally found near the body joints. Their inflammation is called bursitis, and when it occurs, it means that more fluid builds in them than normal. The swelling that results can be reduced via cold therapy quite efficiently. Just keep applying ice on the affected bursae for a few days until your health goes back to normal.
To treat tendonitis: Tendon lesions are quite sudden and painful, and swelling occurs pretty fast. Apply ice for 20 minutes every 4-6 hours, and in a few days, you should feel as good as new.
How Often Should You Do Cryotherapy?
As long as you follow recommendations regarding continuous use and breaks between cryo sessions, you can benefit from ice therapy multiple times per day. This goes for PBC, not WBC. If you opt for WBC, a single 3-5 minute session per day is sufficient. On the other hand, if you prefer localized cold therapy, the National Council for Orthopedic Research recommends that you employ the ice pack or ice therapy machine wrap on the affected area for 20-30 minutes. When the time passes, remove the cold item to prevent frostbite and take a 2-hour break before application. Therefore, if you opt for at-home ice therapy where you can undergo the procedure at your discretion, you can perform the treatment about 9 to 10 times within 24 hours.
Who Shouldn’t Use Ice Therapy
As beneficial as this therapy might be, the reason why it is recommended for a vast series of medical issues, as we earlier explained, there are situations when it is contraindicated. Some of these conditions include, but are not limited to:
Because of their body’s inability to uphold proper core temperature in situations of thermal stress, people who are diagnosed with type 1 and 2 diabetes should avoid cold therapy.
Pregnant women should only apply local ice therapy and only at the doctor’s recommendation. WBC is off-limits during pregnancy.
If you have any symptomatic cardiovascular disease or a cardiac pacemaker, you cannot undergo WBC. PBC, on the other hand, is safe within reasonable limits.
People who suffer from cold allergies should avoid any sort of ice therapy because it can have immediate negative repercussions.
If you have severe hypertension or arrhythmia, refrain from WBC. Only use PBC and strictly for as long as your heart rate isn’t affected.
In case you have a fever, avoid cold therapy altogether until your body temperature returns to normal parameters.
Woman in a Whole Body Cryo Chamber
Ice Therapy Benefits
The list of ways in which ice therapy benefits the patient is longer than what we will immediately list. However, these are some of the most important science-backed perks you reap when applying either local or WBC:
#1 – Exercise recuperation assistance is likely the most well-known benefit of cold therapy. Muscle soreness, pain alleviation, and inflammation decrease are some of the manners in which this therapy benefits athletes.
#2 – According to a review of several studies, cold compression therapy after an acute musculoskeletal injury or orthopedic surgery does make a difference in improving clinical results as opposed to no treatment.
#4 – It constricts blood vessels, which makes ice therapy useful for reducing hemorrhage. This is why ice is even applied in hospitals to wounded people.
#5 – As long as there is no frostbite mark on the affected area where you apply ice therapy, it can be used to soothe eczema symptoms.
#6 – Conferring to the results of clinical trials, WBC improves the mood of anxiety and depression sufferers in the short term. Heat therapy a.k.a. sauna sessions have been demonstrated to deliver the same outcome, relaxing your mind and body to relieve stress and amp the feeling of happiness.
#7 – This study regarding the effects of targeted neck cooling indicates that it is an efficient procedure for treating migraine headaches.
#8 – Because of the difference it makes in diminishing inflammation, cold therapy is suggested for patients who experience chronic inflammation.
#9 – Clinical trials where patients with fibromyalgia benefited from WBC showed betterment in life quality that lasted for more than 1 month after treatment ended.
#10 – Ice therapy reduces oxidative stress, which makes it a viable means to improve functional status and fatigue in patients who suffer from multiple sclerosis syndrome.
For the wide range of benefits ice therapy provides and the action that stands at its basis, it is recommended for a wide range of situations. In fact, doctors recommend it to patients for the pain management and rehabilitation assistance it can provide. Whether you opt for WBC that you perform at a wellness center or spa, or you prefer PBC via ice packs or utilizing the ice therapy machine is not important. What matters is that you don’t fall into any of the categories of individuals who should avoid cold therapy, and make sure that you proceed as recommended when it comes to session length and breaks. As long as you follow these simple guidelines, regardless of the condition you suffer from that ice therapy is approved for, you will notice more rapid healing or pain alleviation.
Mark is the founder of this website and our resident expert reviewer. He takes part in the testing process all the time and makes sure that he writes complete, detailed pieces so that readers make the right choice each time. His passion for fitness and wellness shines best in his articles, where he generally talks from firsthand experiences to give useful and tested advice.