How is Cryotherapy Used in Sports Injuries?

“Cryotherapy” is a term that refers to the use of ice/cold packs for the therapeutic effect they offer. Following is a detailed explanation of the “PRICE” principle of using cryotherapy for sports related injuries as well as any other type of injury. P.R.I.C.E Principles When it comes to treating acute sports injuries, the “PRICE” principles are considered to be the gold standard. This involves all of the components necessary to avoid further injury and promote healing. When used properly and early on, it can reduce the recovery time of the injured person. This acronym stands for:
P- Protection R- Rest I- Ice C- Compression E- Elevation
As soon as possible following an injury- and at least for the first 24 to 72 hours. Following is an explanation of the reasons applying ice and compression to an injury aids in the healing process.

Cryotherapy & Sports Injuries – What To Consider

Protection When it comes to healing and preventing further damage, protection of the damaged tissue is critical. There are many ways that you can protect an injured area by limiting further movement/use of the injured area. One of the best ways to do this is by using a splint or other sort of support. Rest Another very important component in the PRICE principle is rest. Unfortunately, this is often ignored or neglected. Rest doesn’t only refer to the time that the individual will be unable to play, but the period immediately following the injury. You must understand when it’s necessary to cease training, as repetitive minor injuries would result in a much more severe injury that will keep you out much longer. This is something that is easily preventable with proper rest/treatment following the injury. Many times, when an injury occurs during an activity, individuals try to “run it off.” This is because some people believe that if they continue to participate in the activity, their injury will disappear. However, in most cases, this is definitely not true. You must realize that while it’s true that continuing an activity with an injury could initially reduce the pain due to a variety of factors. When you are working out, nerve impulses that promote a feeling of euphoria can override the impulses that are sent from the pain nerves. This is known as the “pain gate theory.” Of course, there are a variety of degrees of rest and are dependent upon the severity of the injury and the type of tissue damage that is sustained. For example- if you sprain your ankle and you have trouble walking, it needs to be completely rested. However, if you tweak your muscle, you only need to modify your activity by not using the muscle that is injured. Ice This is where cryotherapy comes in. Ice is one of the most popular treatment modalities when it comes to sports injuries. It’s very cheap and easy and you really don’t need any expertise or a whole lot of time to prepare it. When you apply ice to an injury in the beginning stages of the injury, you can decrease the damage. It does this in a variety of ways:
  • Reduces bleeding by constricting blood vessels
  • Reduces pain
  • Reduces muscle spasms
  • Reduces necrosis of cells by decreasing the metabolic rate
Most of the time, crushed ice is placed in a bag and placed on the affected area. You will need a damp towel between the bag of ice and the skin to avoid what is known as ice burn. In addition, you should never leave the ice on for more than 20 minutes, as that could cause ice burn as well. Compression You can minimize the amount of swelling following an injury by applying compression to the injured area. This should be done within the first 24 to 72 hours and can be done in two different ways. First of all, you can compress the injured limb, which prevents excessive bleeding by increasing the pressure within the tissue. The second way you can use compression is by moderating the amount of fluid (exudate) that your body produces to protect the injured area. While exudate does carry cells and chemicals to repair damage- moderating the amount produced helps to reduce healing time. You can apply compression in a variety of ways- the most effective method is using a compression bandage that fits around the limb that is affected. The advantage of this method is that it’s so easy to apply and the elastic gives just enough pressure to stop bleeding but still allow the limb to slightly swell. This is critical because if the compression is too tight, it can cause tissue damage and even necrosis of the cells. One of the best ways to monitor the tightness of a compression bandage is by checking the tissue on either side of the bandage for a “pins & needles” sensation, skin discoloration, or coldness near the area. If your bandage is too tight, loosen it and if that does not resolve the problem, remove it completely. When you are using an elastic bandage, you should start away from your heart and work inwards. Each layer should overlap the previous layer. For example, when compressing your thigh, start at your knee and work upwards. If you are compressing your elbow, start at your forearm and work up. This will encourage any swelling to go back to your heart and reabsorbed properly. Ideally, you should be using compression with ice therapy and can be applied manually or by wrapping the ice pack in the bandage. Elevation The final principle of the PRICE principle is elevation. However, it’s just as important as the other four. Elevation lets gravity pull the fluid away from the affected area. This decreases swelling, which can decrease the pain associated with swelling. When you have a lower limb injury, you should try to keep the injured area above your hip level. If you have an upper limb injury, it should be kept resting on a pillow or in a sling. You should continue all attempts to keep the limb elevated for the first 48 hours. Cryotherapy is a great way to treat sports injuries- but it’s not the only way. It should be used with the PRICE principle.