What is cryotherapy?

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Cryotherapy is the use of cold air or ice packs to treat inflammation. Surgeons can use cryotherapy to treat tumors. Treatments can last from 4 minutes, such as cold air therapy, to 20 minutes, such as an ice-pack on your skin. If you’ve ever put an ice pack on a twisted ankle or a sore muscle, you’ve used cryotherapy. The biggest benefit of cryotherapy is that is directly targets inflammation. Swollen or inflamed tissue takes longer to heal and will put more pressure on nerves within the tissue. The biggest risks of cryotherapy are over-exposure. An ice pack directly on your skin can cause frostbite; you will need a barrier to protect the top layer of dermis. Too much cold air or water immersion can be fatal over time.

Build A Routine

Most of the time, cryotherapy can be a short-term treatment. For example, if you have undergone a surgery, you can use a cold wrap or a cold pack to keep swelling down for the first few weeks after your procedure. Do make sure to use a timer; most professionals recommend 20 minutes of icing every two hours. If you are using ice on top of an injury or in a surgical wrap, make sure you protect your skin from direct contact with the ice. Frostbite hurts and will not speed your recovery. The key to cryotherapy is to use that time of reduced inflammation to your advantage. For example, you may have a sore back. Build yourself a flat ice pack with

  • a gallon sized Ziploc bag
  • a terry kitchen towel
  • water

Fold the towel flat and lay it in the Ziploc bag. Slowly add water to the bag until the towel is saturated but make sure there’s no water standing in the bag. Freeze the bag flat and wrap it in a lighter towel before placing it on the inflamed area. You may need to lay down to get the ice pack to stay put. Use a timer to avoid falling asleep on your ice pack! Once your muscles have been iced, they may be stiff. However, they will also be less inflamed. As directed, gently stretch the affected area.

Don’t lift or hyperextend anything; all you want to do is loosen up the affected area. If allowed, consider getting your body in a body of water to lower the pressure on your joints and increase your flexibility. Your physical therapist may use cryotherapy prior to a treatment. Because tub cryotherapy is applied in very short periods of time, you may find that your sessions include an ice bath followed by some intense stretching. Depending on the nature of your injury or the amount of tissue involved in your surgery, you may need a routine of icing and medication at home to avoid an increase in inflammation.

There are serious risks of using cryotherapy depending on your current state of health. For example, if you struggle with neuropathy or numbness from diabetes or impinged nerves, using cryotherapy on the numb tissue can increase your risk of injury. No matter your state of health, do make sure to carefully monitor the tissue after each session. Always use a timer when using any cold product on your skin. We have all had experience with a heating pad or a hot water bottle. There are conditions where a hot water bottle can be quite soothing; for example, many women find that heat can reduce menstrual cramps. However, you can quickly turn a little muscle pain into a lot of muscle pain by applying heat. If you’re stiff and sore after a hard day of yard work or hiking, start with ice on your joints for 20 minutes. Stretch your joints and do your best to move gently before you apply heat. Heat is comforting, but it can make inflammation much worse. Professional cryotherapy can be incredibly helpful if you struggle with inflammatory pain or illness. Undergoing this treatment will take some fortitude; it’s natural to want to avoid extreme cold. However, when properly diagnosed and effectively applied, cryotherapy can be incredibly helpful. We can help. Call now 205-352-9141.

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