Cryotherapy: How to ice and why!
Cryotherapy – Wherever there are injuries, there is ice. Ice is frequently used for pain relief and to decrease inflammation. Whether it’s ice packs, gel packs, ice sprays or full-on ice baths, we tend to take ice for granted and we forget the importance of cryotherapy. There has been lots of research on cryotherapy and new technologies that not only enhance recovery but also produce more strength gains than steroids.
Recent research has looked into the differences between types of cryotherapy application. While crushed-ice bags and ice water immersion both take around 2.6 minutes to reach an 8 degrees reduction in intramuscular temperature, ice water immersion shows a greater temperature decrease 90 minutes following application. The results show that though both are effective ways of decreasing inflammation and numbing pain, ice water immersion is a better bet for an acute sports injury. Because athletes tend to want to return to sports as soon as possible, ice water immersion may maintain the effects of cryotherapy much longer than regular ice bags.
With ice packs, it is found that cubed ice or “wetted” ice (ice and water) are also superior to crushed-ice bags because they allow better contouring of the ice pack over certain surfaces. The “right” size of ice packs for a certain injury or individual has also come into question, with new studies into how the subcutaneous fat of an individual could decrease the effectiveness of the cryotherapy. While most health professionals advise their patients not to apply ice for more than 20 minutes to avoid frostbite or nerve damage, these new studies have recommended 25 minutes of ice time for patients with a skinfold of less than 20mm and a 60 minute application for skinfold measurements of 30mm to 40mm.
With all of this research and interest in cryotherapy, there are bound to be new technologies. Whole-body cryotherapy and the “cool” glove are said to become more popular in the near future. During whole-body cryotherapy, the patient is exposed to very cold air maintained between -110 degrees C to -140 degrees C for approximately 2-3 minutes in a cryochamber. The focus of this treatment is relief of pain and inflammatory symptoms for various musculoskeletal conditions including arthritis, rheumatic conditions and fibromyalgia
The “cool” glove is a technology based on the premise that cooling via the palm can enhance recovery and improve aerobic exercise endurance and work volume. A study in 2012 proved the performance enhancing effects of this new technology. Over a 6-week period, a group subject to the “cool” glove improved by 144% compared to the 5% improvement for the control group when it came to performance enhancement with pull-ups. Over a 3-week period of bench-press training, palm cooling enhanced work volume by 40% compared to the control group who improved by only 13%. There was also a study done that showed the 33% increase in exercise duration for multiple sclerosis patients who usually experience increased fatigue and pain with increases in temperature due to ambient conditions or physical activity.