When the going gets tough, the tough get going, but in most cases, the tough can only get going with some help.
Pain and swelling, whether caused by overuse injuries or post-operative procedures, can sideline you from doing the things you love. If you want to get back on your feet in no time, try cold compression therapy.
If you’re curious to know how cold compression therapy works and how to use it like a pro, read this article for the answers.
What is compression therapy?
Compression therapy is a method in which controlled pressure is applied to the extremities to increase blood flow and enhance the performance of the lymphatic and venous systems, which are keys to faster recovery.
The venous system refers to the network of veins that deliver deoxygenated blood from your organs and back to your heart. The lymphatic system is composed of vessels, tissues and organs that not only maintains your body’s fluid balance but also produces lymphocytes, the body’s sickness-repelling cells.
How does cold compression relieve injuries?
Strains, sprains and other soft tissue injuries that cause inflammation, swelling and pain can benefit from cold compression therapy. Ice and compression are two key components of the RICE method, a widely recognized and effective self care treatment for soft tissue injuries.
Cold compression therapy accelerates the lymphatic system’s flushing action, making it more efficient in pumping out unwanted fluids and contributing to faster inflammation recovery. This method likewise tones down the swelling as it produces an analgesic effect, reducing pain. By relaxing the veins, vessels and arteries impacted by sore muscles, compression further reduces swelling and improves blood circulation.
Besides pain and swelling, other symptoms set off by various muscle, tendon and ligament injuries, such as muscle spasms and bruises, may be relieved by the application of cold compression therapy.
What are the benefits of using cold compression?
Many athletes swear by cold therapy, with some immersing themselves in ice cold water to accelerate recovery and enhance athletic performance. Cold compression therapy has the same impact, and you don’t have to spend too much for it.
Just like a pro, you can enjoy these specific benefits when using cold compression therapy, even at home:
While swelling is the first step in healing from injuries, it can impede recovery if it drags on. By applying cold compression to a fresh injury, swelling and pain are controlled.
As the painful area continues to swell, the pressure that goes with it continues to cause pain. Applying counter pressure to the swollen and sore area reduces swelling and minimizes pain.
Enhanced oxygen supply
An injured area needs oxygen supply to heal faster, but swelling can impede blood and oxygen flow. Cold compression can enhance oxygen flow to an injured area and reduce soreness.
Improved blood circulation
Cold compression facilitates blood circulation and may help avoid blood clots from developing. Cold compression devices are recommended for post-surgery elbow, knee, leg, hip and shoulder pain.
Faster tissue repair
Reduced swelling coupled with the rush of oxygen and nutrient-rich blood and fluids accelerate tissue repair and prevents lymph fluid build-up.
How do you apply cold compression therapy?
Several compression wraps and equipment that are specific for residential, professional and athletic use are available. Each of these devices uses either static or dynamic compression.
Wearable compression wraps, straps and braces provide static compression to the affected area, and these types of compression units are cheaper than cold compression therapy machines.
As the name implies, dynamic compression offers varied pressure levels, and cold compression therapy machines work by providing intermittent pneumatic compression to deliver ice-cold water at specific intervals. Cold compression therapy machines and devices are typically utilized in professional and medical settings.
8 ways to recover faster and better with cold compression therapy
Recover from injuries faster and improve your performance through the use of cold compression. Here are a few methods:
Method #1: Wear ice packs with compression
Because ice’s analgesic and vasoconstricting properties are made more effective by compression, a sore and painful part of your body—including the knee, elbow and shoulder—does not stand a chance against a cold compression wrap.
Cold compression should be applied as soon as possible to enjoy its efficacy. Use elastic bandages for DIY ice packs.
Method #2: Perform light stretches and gentle exercises
It makes sense to stop doing the specific activity that caused your injury, but this does not mean you’d have to stick your butt on the couch to binge-watch every movie available on Netflix. Sure, you might need to use crutches, splints and other devices, but if you can still perform non-weight-bearing exercises or gentle stretches, by all means, you should.
Performing light stretches helps your muscles, tendons and ligaments gain resilience and flexibility, contributing to faster healing in the short-term, and injury prevention in the long-term.
Method #3: Use supportive devices
Since you cannot use cold compression continuously for 24 hours, why not wear compression sleeves, braces and other supportive tools in between cold compression therapy applications? Wearing these supportive devices helps ease muscle tension in and around the injured area and protects you from re-injuring yourself.
Supportive devices are available online and there’s one for almost every body part. For example, take this highly recommended elbow ice pack with compression wrap that you can use with or without the gel inserts.
Method #4: Elevate the affected area
As the “E” in the RICE method, elevating the affected area above your heart can contribute to swelling reduction. Doing this helps keep unwanted fluids away from the injured area.
Method #5: Alternate heat and cold therapies
Experts advise to spice up your therapeutic routine after three days following the injury by alternating cold and warm gel packs. These contrasting methods create a strong pumping action that restricts circulation of unwanted fluids and consequently opens the floodgates for blood and nutrients to the affected site. This fresh circulation of white blood cells destroys damaged cells, accelerating the healing process.
Method #6: Continue cold compression application post-injury
An individual who has been sedentary for some time following a serious injury can benefit from cold compression, too. Applying an ice pack on the previously tissue-damaged area can help minimize stress and inflammation once you get back on your feet.
Method #7: Wear a cold compression wrap after exercise
Cold compression is particularly helpful for athletes and sports buffs recovering from injuries as it prevents them from easily reinjuring themselves and protects against delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS).
DOMS typically shows up about 24 hours following a workout, with pain intensifying from one to three days. It is a common aftereffect of stress on your muscles when you work out. That being said, those who are guilty of doing too much, too soon (for instance, starting a new exercise program, intensifying a routine, or refusing to take a break) are most likely to develop muscle soreness.
To hasten recovery and to improve performance, apply cold compression following a workout.
Method #8: Strap on cold compression post-surgery
Cold compression therapy helps prevent possible postoperative complications such as deep venous thrombosis. DVT develops when a blood clot forms in one of the veins in the leg or arms. People recovering from total hip or knee surgeries are most susceptible to DVT, as are pregnant women, couch potatoes, obese persons and persons over 50.
When to see a doctor
If pain and swelling continues or worsens with time, or if you develop sudden symptoms such as loss of function and motion, fever or deformities, seek an appointment with your doctor.
How about you? Have you tried cold compression therapy yet? Tell us more about your experience in the comments section.
Hi, I’m Steve Stretton, owner and manager at Gelpacks.com. If you’d like to know more about gel packs and our cool products, please write us a message.