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Why Ice Therapy Or Cryotherapy Is Better Than Heat?
Cryotherapy or Ice therapy is better than thermal therapy or heat in treating pain, injuries, or inflammatory processes brought forth by an underlying condition. Thermal therapy or heat therapy is best for muscle spasms or muscle tightness. However, ice will be better if the muscle spasm or tightness results from an injury or strain.
Ice therapy or cryotherapy helps decrease inflammatory processes after an injury. Therapeutic application of substances that removes heat from the body and leads to a reduction in tissue temperature is termed cryotherapy. Cryotherapy causes constriction of the small blood vessels, decreases tissue blood flow, reduces metabolic tissue rate, oxygen consumption, inflammation, and muscle spasms. Conventional cold application methods include an ice pack, vapor-coolant spray, ice massage, and cold whirlpool. Use of an ice pack or cool pack is best in acute injury, chronic pain, muscle spasm, delayed onset muscle soreness, and inflammation.
The cold-induced local aesthetic effects are obtained via neurologic and vascular mechanisms at the spinal cord level. The temperature of the skin and underlying soft tissues decreases with topical cold application. This temperature reduction leads to a decrease in the nociceptor activation threshold and the nerve conduction velocity of the pain signals. The tissue blood flow and cell metabolic rate can be slow down with continuous cryotherapy. Reduced cell metabolism, in turn, prevents secondary hypoxic injury to the surrounding tissues by restricting the rate of oxygen utilization.
Health Condition Needs Careful Assessment Before Icing Or Heating
Take extra care when applying cryotherapy to patients with advanced diabetes, as diabetic neuropathy may result in serious complications. After cryotherapy with compression, peroneal, ulnar, axillary, and lateral femoral cutaneous nerve injury is well documented, and these superficial nerves are more likely to be damaged with prolonged cold compression. Other adverse treatment effects include frostbite, Raynaud’s phenomenon, cardiovascular issues, and slowed wound healing.
Understand the basic pathophysiology of pain and why cryotherapy and thermal therapy helps reduce pain by reading our related article on the physiological impacts of heat and ice therapy.