Baby it’s cold outside…

With Christmas around the corner and with winter in full swing, the thought of applying ice or cold treatments (Cold Therapy) may not sound too appealing! However as Physiotherapists we often advocate the use of ice and cold treatments at home to help with joint and muscular pain and swelling, especially in acute injuries!

Cold therapy can be used to reduce  blood flow, oedema and haemorrhage local to the injured area (Kanlayanaphotporn and Janwantanakul, 2005). It also creates changes in cellular metabolism and enzyme activity, which reduces the risk of tissue damage (Cina-Tschumi, 2007). The application of cold therapy can also be an effective for pain relief, by reducing nerve conduction velocity and muscle spasm (Algafly and George, 2007).

So, a great idea in theory but walking around with a bag of frozen peas is often impractical and unrealistic in public, which is why many people favour the wide range of cooling sprays, gels and patches that are available in pharmacies and supermarkets. But how effective are these products?

We recently attended a talk by Mentholatum, who produce a number of popular pain relief cooling and heat products including Deep Freeze and Deep Heat.

They have recently conducted a study at the University of Stirling, Faculty of Sport Science, called  “The Effect of Deep Freeze versus Ice Treatment on Intramuscular & Skin Temperature”, which they are hoping to publish in a peer reviewed journal early next year.

The quadricep ( thigh muscle) was exposed to 4 different types of treatments including ice, cooling gel, cooling spray and patch. The temperature of the muscle tissue was measured after 80 minutes at 1cm deep and at 3cm deep.

The results were as followed:

Ice : -3.2 degrees at 1cm and -2.5 degrees at 3cm

Gel: -2 degrees at 1cm and -1.9 degrees at 3cm

Spray: -1.2 degrees at 1cm and -1.1 degrees at 3cm

Patch: -2.4 degrees at 1cm and -2.6 degrees at 3cm

All treatments appear to have created a cooling effect on the muscle tissue at both a superficial (1cm) and deeper level (3cm) for nearly an hour and a half. Ice still appears to be the most effective at superficial skin level, however the cold patches gave a slightly cooler temperature at deeper 3cm level. More independent research is required but these results are promising! Cooling products may be provide a quick, convenient and discreet option for cold therapy when you are out and about.

Algafly AA, George KP. The effect of cryotherapy on nerve conduction velocity, pain threshold and pain tolerance. Br J Sports Med 2007;41:365–9.

Cina-Tschumi B. [Evidence-based impact of cryotherapy on postoperative pain, swelling,drainage and tolerance after orthopedic surgery]. Pflege 2007;20:258–67.

Kanlayanaphotporn R, Janwantanakul P. Comparison of skin surface temperature during the application of various cryotherapy modalities. Arch Phys Med Rehabil 2005;86:1411–15.