Recovering from an injury can be a frustrating process, especially for athletes who want or need to get back to their sport as quickly as possible. That’s where cold and compression therapy comes in.
Studies have shown that cold and compression therapy work best when the cold therapy and compression are combined into one treatment.
So what do healthy and injured athletes need to know about cold compression therapy before giving it a try?
Benefits of Cold Compression Therapy
Cold compression therapy offers a broad range of benefits for injury recovery, particularly for athletes.
Both of these therapies — cryotherapy and compression therapy — offer benefits on their own. But they become a powerhouse when used together.
Here are a few of the key benefits of using cold compression therapy together:
Reduced Swelling and Inflammation
Many studies, including this 2010 study in the Open Access Journal of Sports Medicine, show that cold compression therapy can help to reduce swelling and inflammation in the affected area. This can help to relieve pain and discomfort and improve mobility.
Improved Blood Flow
A 2009 study from Athletic Therapy Today shows that alternating cold therapy with compression improves blood flow to the affected area. This can help to bring important nutrients and oxygen to the injured tissues, promoting healing.
Faster Recovery Time
Research has also shown that using cold compression therapy can speed up the healing process and reduce recovery time. One set of case studies, for instance, found that athletes shaved an entire month off their recovery time by using cold compression therapy. By reducing swelling and improving blood flow, you’re creating an optimal environment for your body to heal itself.
Reduced Pain and Discomfort
Cold therapy has long been used to reduce pain after an injury. But again, combining cold therapy with compression is ideal for pain management. A 1994 study documented reduced pain with patients who used both cold and compression therapy. This is because the therapy reduces muscle spasms and stiffness, which can impede healing. A major added benefit of reduced pain is that patients can rely less on painkillers while they heal.
How Does Compression Help an Injury?
Compression works by applying pressure to the affected area, which helps to reduce swelling and inflammation. It can also improve blood flow to the area, which promotes healing. By compressing the injured tissues, you’re also providing support and stability to the affected joint or muscle.
There are two main types of compression therapy: static and intermittent. Intermittent Pneumatic Compression (IPC), which is the type of compression that PowerPlay devices use, is a relatively new treatment compared to static compression therapy. But the research is promising. This 2010 study in the Open Access Journal of Sports Medicine discusses how IPC helps prevent edema formation, increase blood flow, and optimize lymphatic drainage — all of which are very helpful for the healing process.
Types of Cold Compression Therapy
Thankfully for athletes, there are many different ways you can get cold compression therapy depending on your situation, location, and budget. Some of these options provide static compression, while others provide Intermittent Pneumatic Compression for even more potential benefits.
The most affordable way to get some of the benefits of cold compression therapy is to use a cold compress. This is something you can buy or even make at home, although make sure you don’t apply ice directly to the skin for more than twenty minutes at a time.
The main advantage of using a cold compress as your cold compression therapy is that it’s quite affordable. There are a few drawbacks, though. For one thing, homemade cold compresses usually don’t have consistent temperature control or proper insulation, which can lead to uneven cooling. Depending on the type of cold compress you have, you may not be able to target more contoured areas of the body like the knees and elbows.
Another drawback is that a cold compress uses static compression, which may not be as effective for injury recovery as Intermittent Pneumatic Compression.
Cold Compression Therapy Devices
Specially designed cold compression therapy devices give athletes, trainers, and physical therapists even more options.
PowerPlay’s cold and compression therapy products, for instance, use advanced technology to apply cold compression therapy to specific areas of the body.
While some cold compression therapy devices can be quite pricey, PowerPlay’s devices are quite cost-effective, especially for athletes, physical therapists, and athletic trainers who expect to use the devices again and again.
Partial or Whole Body Cryotherapy
Another popular option is partial or whole body cryotherapy in a cryotherapy chamber at a specialized facility. These treatments are usually quick and can offer many of the general benefits that cryotherapy offers. This type of treatment might be beneficial for anyone looking for the health benefits of cryotherapy. The main advantage is that the treatment can be applied to the whole body instead of a localized body part. The treatments are often quite quick as well, lasting just a few minutes.
Disadvantages are that you need access to this type of facility in your area, and that compression therapy is typically an additional service on top of the cryotherapy session. It may be cost-effective as a single treatment, but a compression device you can use at home repeatedly may end up being much less expensive in the long run.
Get the Recovery You Need
If you’re suffering from an injury or nagging pain from your athletic activities, it’s always best to talk to a physical therapist. They’ll be able to recommend if cold compression therapy, including PowerPlay’s devices, would be helpful in your situation.
For more information about cold compression therapy and injury recovery, check out our cold compression resource page.
Whatever you decide, make sure to get the recovery you need. After all, you deserve to get back to the sport you love!