Cold Compression Therapy

How Can Cold Compression Therapy Help You?

Cold compression therapy is a common, clinically proven treatment for injury to soft tissues such as muscles or ligaments. It is often recommended by clinicians following sports or activity injuries, or by orthopedic surgeons following surgery. 

There are many benefits to cold compression therapy, including accelerated recovery time, reduced pain and swelling, and stimulated blood flow. There are also many means of administering cold compression treatment, such as cold therapy units and cold compresses such as cold compression wraps or a homemade variant.

But before you can understand if and how it can help you, first you need to know what cold compression therapy is. 


What is Cold Compression Therapy?

Cold compression therapy is, rather intuitively, any treatment that combines cold therapy and compression therapy. 

What is Cold Therapy?

Cold therapy, or cryotherapy, is a method of temporarily relieving pain — particularly from surgery, exercise, strains, or injury — by exposing parts of the body to the cold for a short period of time. Typically, this is done with ice, a cold pack, or a cold therapy unit. But some simply use a bag of frozen vegetables. A topical cream such as Icy Hot or Bengay may simulate the feeling of cold therapy, but does not affect the body in the same way. 

Applying targeted cold therapy shrinks blood vessels, reducing blood flow to injured areas. Reducing blood flow also tempers swelling, nerve activity, edema, and inflammation. In doing so, cryotherapy relieves pain in soft tissues such as muscles, joints, and tendons. 

There is no concrete consensus on how long cold therapy should be applied to an injury. But typically it is only recommended for a short amount of time. Applying cryotherapy 20 minutes or more can restrict reflexes and adversely impact balance, or even damage nerves.

What is Compression Therapy?

Compression therapy is a method of applying pressure to an injury through use of bandages, wraps, or specialized clothing such as compression socks. Like cold therapy, compression therapy is used to increase blood flow in the area of injury, which in turn reduces swelling and edema and boosts blood flow to the heart. 

Compression therapy is one of the oldest medical treatments still in practice, with earliest known uses dating back to ancient Egypt and Greece. 

Why Use Cold & Compression Therapy Together?

Studies show using cold therapy and compression therapy together can significantly speed up healing of soft tissue injuries.

The principles of cold and compression therapy are two of the four included in the classic soft tissue treatment regimen RICE, which stands for Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation. Introduced by famed sportsmedicine physician Dr. Gabe Mirkin in 1978, RICE has since fallen out of favor. The regimen was never intended as a cure, but rather a first-aid measure to contain inflammation. Dr. Mirken recanted RICE himself in 2014 after learning inflammation plays an important role in the healing process. 

Taken together, however, cold and compression therapy do exhibit clinically proven positive effects. To fully illuminate the benefits, let’s first break down how exactly cold compression therapy works.

How Does Cold Compression Therapy Work?

Cold compression therapy provides the benefits of cold therapy and compression therapy at the same time. The cold treatment relieves pain and causes blood vessels to contract, while the compression limits swelling and promotes lymphatic drainage. Basically, it gives patients the best of both worlds. 

Most cold compression therapy treatment options provide either passive cold compression, also known as static compression, or active cold compression, also called intermittent compression.

What is Passive Cold Compression?

Passive cold compression is simply consistent compression — i.e. a compression wrap or stocking — along with a component of cold treatment. A bandage wrapped tightly around an ice pack on an injured knee would be considered passive compression.

Static compression delivers the aforementioned benefits of compression, but does not provide the additional effects of active compression. 

What is Active Cold Compression?

Active cold compression alternates between compression and decompression, sometimes providing additional compression in the proximity of the injured area. Essentially, active compression leads swelling and edema away from the injured area toward the body’s core for disposal via the lymphatic system, enriching oxygen flow. 

Devices that provide active cold compression include cold therapy units and cold compresses, such as Proventus wraps. Unlike most cold compression machines, which tend to be stationary or burdensome to move around, Proventus wraps allow for active compression on the go. Proventus wraps have a customized pneumatic fit, with a squeeze bulb allowing you to deliver active compression for immediate relief, anywhere, anytime. 

Benefits of Cold Compression Therapy

Cold compression therapy can provide those recovering from surgery or injury with rapid and relaxing recovery. There are many benefits of cold compression therapy, but it is most often recommended by athletic trainers, physical therapists, physicians, and orthopedic surgeons for the following reasons:

1. More efficient.

Cold compression is clinically proven to be more effective than cold or compression treatment alone. By applying both at once, the effects go deeper and last longer.

2. Less swelling. 

Swelling is caused by a build-up of fluid within body tissue. Cold compression therapy reduces swelling, helping many to recover faster and healthier. Some studies show reducing swelling post-surgery can halve recovery time.

3. More Convenient.

Cold compression therapy can be more convenient than applying cold therapy alone. Cold compresses in particular are a beneficial and convenient option, especially when seeking cold compression therapy for your knee or shoulder. 

4. Less medication.

By slowing down communication between body and brain, cold compression therapy provides effective, low risk pain relief. To many patients and physicians, it is a safer option than relying on possibly addictive medications during recovery. 

5. Meet your goals.

Depending on the extent of your injury, cold compression can help you continue to recover without taking time off. For example, with the help of a cold compression wrap, you may be able to continue exercising and working toward your workout goals without taking a recovery day. 

This is less likely to be true for those suffering from a serious soft tissue injury. But for those experiencing strained muscles or post-workout soreness, the ability to power through a minor setback is a significant benefit of cold compression.

What are Cold Compression Therapy Machines?

Cold compression machines, also called cold therapy units or ice therapy machines, are a modern way of providing cold compression therapy. These units work by circulating water through an ice reservoir connected to a compression wrap. Some automatically inflate, release, and re-inflate those wraps in order to provide active compression.

However, it’s important to note cold therapy units can be quite expensive, and may not be covered by health insurance. Also, though they are typically small and somewhat portable, they still operate through a separate unit you’d need to carry with you. A cold compression machine for your knee or ice therapy machine for your shoulder might limit mobility when compared to a cold compression wrap. 

Is Cold Compression Therapy Right For You?

With all that in mind, one question remains: do you need cold compression therapy? 

To be clear, this is a question better answered by a healthcare professional than a blog post or web page. But we can say cold compression therapy is commonly recommended to treat everything from major surgery rehab to minor joint pain. The proven benefits of cold compression apply to bruises, sprains, and workout soreness, as much as they do to hip or knee replacements. Cold compression therapy is a customary and time-tested treatment for good reason. It works.

Still, when using a cold compress or any other form of medical treatment, it is crucial to put safety first. Proventus wraps are commonly recommended by top orthopedic surgeons for everyone from weekend warriors to athletes at pro levels. But be sure to speak with a doctor before beginning a treatment regimen and follow their recommendations throughout. 

Once you’ve started, Proventus is here to help you get right and get back to performing at the top of your game. If you have any questions about our products or cold compression therapy in general, please do not hesitate to contact us.
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