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Diseases > Cold Therapy | Cool Packs | Arthritis

Cold Therapy | Cool Packs | for Arthritis

How will cold help me to manage my arthritis?

Cold can help to decrease pain, decrease swelling and help reduce muscle spasms. By decreasing the swelling and pain in your joints you will feel better and be able to function better.

Cold works by decreasing swelling through vasoconstriction of the blood vessels. This also decreases blood flow and blocks the release of histamine; blocking histamine decreases the feeling of pain. Cold also stimulates sensory receptors that help to block the transmission of pain impulses that travel along the nerves and therefore increases your pain threshold.

When should I use cold?

  • For 24 – 78 hours following injury or orthopedic surgery
  • To decrease swelling in arthritic joints
  • To decrease pain in arthritic joints
  • To decrease muscle spasm

When should I be careful using cold?

  • Over an area with compromised circulation or sensation
  • Raynaud’s disease (blanching of fingers when exposed to cold)
  • Allergy to cold
  • History of frostbite

Do not fall asleep with an ice pack on
If unsure whether to use ice, check with your doctor or physiotherapist

How do I apply cold?

Cold Packs

  • Gel packs, bag of frozen vegetables, or crushed ice in a bag
  • Place a moist towel between the pack and the skin to improve conduction of cold.
  • Apply for 10 – 15 minutes

Ice Massage

  • This technique is usually done over a small body part i.e. elbow. Freeze water in a paper cup to make handling easier. Rub the ice over the skin in a circular motion. Peel the cup back as the ice melts.
  • Apply for 5 – 10 minutes

Cold Baths

  • This is usually used for the hands or feet. Fill a bowl or wash basin with tap water. Add ice cubes to achieve the desired temperature. Water temperature can vary between 13 – 18 degrees Celsius.
  • Apply for 5 – 10 minutes

Contrast Baths

  • Alternating the use of cold and warm water. Fill one bowl with warm water and one with cold water. Start and finish by soaking in the cold water first. Soak in cold water for 60 seconds and warm water for 30 seconds.
  • Apply for a total of 5 – 10 minutes

Ice Towels

  • This technique is used for body parts that might be difficult to use a cold pack i.e. ankle. Wet a towel. Place the towel in the freezer so that the water freezes. Mold the towel to the affected body part.
  • Apply 10 – 15 minutes

What to Remember when Using Cold

  • The skin underlying the cooling agent will redden, check the skin frequently for signs of over cooling (blanched, white skin)
  • RICE method – Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation can help to further decrease swelling
  • Leave at least 2 hours between cold applications