ce was always seen as a good way to cool off a sore spot and reduce swelling and bruising. If you sprain your ankle, ice is the first thing you place on it to reduce the discomfort, if you fall and injure your knee, you add ice, if you are in a bar fight and get punched in the face, ice is your best friend to try and look recognizable in the morning. Yet, when you are dealing with a wound you ended up with after surgery, changing the ice pack every hour can be a real bother, especially as the last thing you will want to do is leave the couch and take a short trip to the freezer. This is precisely the context in which surgeons started advising their patients to try and find the best ice therapy machine for their needs before going through surgery so they can rely on it afterward. These devices can provide up to 6 hours of relief without requiring supplementary ice, which is what made them extremely popular among patients. Below, we explain how you should use your machine to get the best results without exposing yourself to the risks of frostbiting or numbness.
How Ice Therapy Machines Work
Several types of devices can apply heat or cold to a certain part of the body. For instance, for back soreness, specialists recommend using an infrared sauna belt or a warm therapy machine, while ice therapy is suggested for dealing with wounds that are in the process of closing. The machines used for cold therapy consist of the following components:
A recipient where the ice is placed – this is often a bucket that can have a smaller or a larger volume. In the bucket, you add cold water and ice. Keep in mind that larger buckets allow you to add more ice or larger blocks of ice, which take more time to melt, so you will need to replace them more seldom.
A pump – the icy water is circulated from the bucket by a pump, which pushes it through the hose. A strong pump can ensure the proper functioning of the device, even if it is placed on the floor. On the other hand, if the machine has a weaker pump, this means that you will need to place it on a coffee table or chair at the same level as your wound, as it is only capable to circulate the water horizontally.
A set of hoses – the hoses attach to the machine and the pad. The first one conducts the ice water to the pad, and the second collects the water that has already been used and sends it back into the machine.
An ice pad – the pad is designed to be applied on the spot where the pain and swelling are identified. In most cases, it is flexible and large enough to be wrapped around a leg or an arm.
Controls – some models come with a control knob that allows you to adjust the speed with which the water is delivered. If you select a higher speed, the sensation of cold is more intense, while if you select a lower speed, the water is circulated more slowly, and you may find it more bearable, especially if you have sensitive skin.
Cryo Massage for Wrist Pain
Why Use an Ice Therapy Machine after Surgery
These devices are not mandatory after surgery, yet many surgeons advise using them as, over time, they have proven their therapeutic effects. Moreover, several studies were performed to analyze how ice therapy influences recovery, and the results were, in most cases, positive. Here are the main benefits you will obtain from using the machine:
It reduces swelling – when an injury occurs, the body moves a lot of white blood cells and fluids in the area to help prevent infection and stimulate the healing process. This leads to an inflammatory reaction, which produces pressure and, consequently, pain. This study that was performed on individuals with inflammation after distal radius fractures showed that if cold therapy is applied for 5 days, it has a good effect on reducing the swelling and ameliorating the pain.
More comfortable than ice packs – one of the main pros of this alternative to ice packs is that it allows you to enjoy the soothing effects for longer. The ice is contained in a bucket, so there are no risks of it melting and wetting everything around, and you can place iced bottles or large blocks of ice that have a longer melting time.
You may need less pain medication – if the surgery can go almost unnoticed since you are under anesthesia when it is performed, the aftercare often involves pain and discomfort, which are treated with Ibuprofen or other painkillers. Using an ice therapy device can lower the pain in the affected body part, as it numbs the nerve endings. This research paper, which reviewed the most important scientific literature concerning this subject, identified multiple studies that sustain this hypothesis, arguing that if ice is applied to the wounded area, it can lower pain and thus lead to fewer painkillers being required.
Using Your Cold Therapy Machine
Since it has only one function, there is nothing complicated about a device of this type works. Here are the steps you need to follow to make sure you are using it correctly:
Step 1: Open the lid of the reservoir and identify the Ice/Water line.
Step 2: Fill the bucket with ice until you reach the line you have previously discovered.
Step 3: Pour cold water over the ice until the water reaches the line.
Step 4: Place the pad around your injured area.
Step 5: Connect the two hoses to the pad, making sure that they fit optimally. You should hear a snap or a click.
Step 6: Plug in the machine and turn it on.
Step 7: Select the speed at which the water should be circulated. Most devices come with a knob for this purpose.
Partial Body Cryotherapy
Tips to Avoid Injury
Using ice to reduce pain may seem harmless and, in general, when using ice packs, the risk of frostbite is minimal. Yet, cryotherapy can lead to severe frostbite, as can be seen in this study which analyzed the effects of improper use of ice therapy in the knee area. In this direction, we have prepared a series of tips that will help you stay safe on your journey to getting well.
Tip #1: Place a barrier between the ice pad and your skin – You can use a pillowcase, a t-shirt, or a thin towel. The purpose is to prevent the pad from coming in contact with your skin as the low temperature can cause frostbites, numbness, or blisters. Nevertheless, make sure that the barrier is not too thick as this can annul the effects of the therapy.
Tip #2: Check your skin color and texture every hour – Don’t fall asleep while the machine is on and keep removing the pad every 60 minutes to make sure that you don’t notice skin discoloration or purple color, as these are the first signs of frostbite.
Tip #3: Make sure that the barrier doesn’t get wet – If the water in the machine crosses the barrier and wets your bandage, you risk getting an infection, so it is a good idea to check for leaks periodically. If water did leak and your bandage soaked it, you should let your surgeon know about the incident as soon as possible.
Tip #4: Let your doctor know if you have a condition that generates a lack of sensitivity at your skin level – This method is not recommended for individuals who suffer from diabetes or other illnesses that numb their limbs, as they may not notice that the water is too cold on time. If you are in this situation, it is best to talk about it with your physician before using the machine.
The Bottom Line
Cryotherapy can be of real help after a fracture or surgery, and there are clinical trials that have proven that it is also efficient in ameliorating the pain caused by arthritis. However, it is essential to learn how to use the machine and know what side effects to watch for, as this can make the difference between fast healing and a long process that may imply complications and more pain. To make sure that you don’t cause yourself frostbites, set a timer for 30 minutes and then take a 2-hour break. You can try to reduce your painkillers gradually and see how you cope with pain. Also remember to keep your surgeon up to date with any abnormality you may observe, as this can influence how your wound heals.
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