Healthy Living

Healthy Living  >  Pain Relief

Rules for Applying Cold Therapy

  • Dr. Steve Young
  • 3 Apr, 2023

Pain is a common experience that almost everyone goes through at some point in their life. Whether it's a headache, a sprained ankle, or a chronic condition like arthritis, pain can have a significant impact on our daily lives. While there are many ways to manage pain, one effective method is through the use of cold therapy.

Cryotherapy, which is another name for cold therapy, is the use of cold temperatures to relieve pain and swelling. There are many ways to do this, such as with ice packs, cold compresses, and ice baths. Cold therapy has been shown to have numerous benefits for pain management, and in this article, we'll take a closer look at how it works and why it can be so effective.

What Is the Cold Therapy Procedure?

The basic principle behind cold therapy is that cold temperatures can reduce inflammation and numb pain. When you get hurt, your body sends white blood cells and other parts of your immune system to the area to help it heal. This makes the area red and swollen. While inflammation is a necessary part of the healing process, it can also cause pain and discomfort.

Cold therapy works by constricting blood vessels in the affected area, which reduces blood flow and, in turn, reduces inflammation. This can help to alleviate pain and swelling and can also speed up the healing process by increasing the flow of oxygen and nutrients to the area.

Why can heat make pain worse?

While cold therapy can be an effective way to manage pain, it's important to note that heat can actually make pain worse in some cases. This is because heat can increase blood flow and inflammation in the affected area, which can exacerbate pain and swelling.

For example, if you have a sprained ankle, applying heat to the area can cause the blood vessels to widen, which can cause more fluid to build up in the joint. This can cause additional swelling and pain, and can delay the healing process.

When to Use Cold Therapy

Cold therapy can be effective for a wide range of pain conditions, including acute injuries like sprains and strains, chronic conditions like arthritis, and post-surgical pain. It's important to note, however, that cold therapy should not be used in all cases.

For instance, if you have a muscle spasm or strain that causes your muscles to be stiff, cold therapy may make the problem worse. In these cases, heat therapy may be a better option, as it can help to relax the muscles and increase blood flow to the affected area.

Pain Modulators and Inflammation

To better understand the benefits of cold therapy for pain management, it's important to understand how pain works in the body. Pain is a complicated process that includes nerve impulses, hormones, and neurotransmitters, among other things. One important component of pain is inflammation.

Inflammation is the body's response to injury or infection, and it plays a key role in the healing process. When you get hurt, your immune system sends white blood cells and other parts to the site to fight off infection and help you heal. While inflammation is a necessary part of the healing process, it can also cause pain and discomfort.

One way that cold therapy can help manage pain is by reducing inflammation in the affected area. Cold therapy can help reduce swelling and inflammation by narrowing blood vessels and cutting off blood flow to the area. This can help ease pain.

Another way that cold therapy can help manage pain is by activating pain modulators in the body. Pain modulators are chemicals that the body makes in response to certain stimuli that help relieve pain. Cold temperatures can stimulate the production of these pain modulators, which can help reduce pain and discomfort.


  • "The Use of Cryotherapy in Sports Injuries." American Family Physician.
  • "The Effects of Heat and Cold on Pain Relief." Practical Pain Management.
  • "Cryotherapy for acute non-specific neck pain: a randomized controlled trial." BMJ Open Sport & Exercise Medicine.
  • "Pain Modulation by Endogenous Opioids and Endocannabinoids." Pharmaceuticals (Basel).
  • "Cryotherapy: Physiological Considerations and Applications to Physical Therapy." Journal of Orthopaedic and Sports Physical Therapy.

Related Articles