What is Cold Therapy?
Long before NSAIDS and other anti-inflammatories, cold therapy was used extensively to treat a wide variety of conditions such as traumatic injuries, hemorrhages, catarrh(excess mucous in the sinuses and throat), ulcers, fevers, and even mania and hysteria. Though we are a long way from the ancient days, cold therapy is still a viable means of treating injuries and illnesses. (1)
Cold temperatures (below 70°F/21°C) helps to reduce inflammation and pain. Cooling a body part adequately slows blood circulation thereby reducing the swelling. Common ways to administer cold therapy are by ice packs, gel packs, cold compresses, shower, bath, or spray.
How to Apply Cold Therapy
There are different modes of cold therapy. The type of injury usually dictates method of cold application.
Ice Pack – For sudden injuries like a sprain or strain an ice pack is a good choice. Fill a plastic baggie with ice. Cover the injured area with a thin cloth or paper towel. Gently place the ice pack on the injured spot. Leave there until the area goes numb. It may burn while freezing but it will pass in about 15 minutes. Once the area is numb remove the ice pack. DO NOT move the injured area until it warms up. Doing so may cause further injury to surrounding delicate tissues. Periodically check for blisters, white, dark, or gray skin color changes, hard waxy skin, or hives as these are signs of ice burn. DO NOT ice for more than 20 minutes.
Gel Pack – Reusable gel packs. Keep on hand in the freezer for pain from achy or swollen joints, sciatic nerve, low back, neck, headaches, and minor burns.
Cold Compress – Dip a small towel ice water, wring out, and apply to the neck, forehead, or wrists. Apply where the skin is thin to cool a fever, ease a headache, or reduce anxiety. Freeze a damp towel and use it to ease the pain and itch of insect bites.
Cooling Spray – Apply cooling sprays directly to a contusion, sprain, or strain. When ice is not available or convenient, a cooling spray will help ease the pain from swelling until you can get to a doctor. DO NOT use on burns, insect bites, or any open wound.
Shower or Bath – Brief periods of time (approximately 3 to 5 minutes) in water below 70°F/21°C can stimulate an increase in white blood cells (Leukocytes). These blood cells help fight infection in the body. Therefore, periodic brief cold showers can help build resistance to common colds and flu. Other advantages for taking cold showers or baths are endorphin release to fight depression, metabolism increase, and improved circulation. (2)
Remember, cold showers can be stressful even if temporary. If you have any health concerns you are unsure about check with your doctor before introducing cold therapy to your healthcare regiment.
Benefits of Cold Therapy:
Boost immune system
Calm and soothe nerves
Cold is usually contraindicated for those with poor circulation and for stiff joints and muscles.