The Healing Elements of Cryotherapy ~ I'll never get tired of hearing 'Oh shit, that's cold'.
This is treatment to the tissues with ice or cold substances as opposed to thermal therapy which is treatment with heat (I'll touch upon that in the next article). Depending on the objectives, one or both therapies can be used in almost any situation because they are so therapeutically useful. The degree and benefit derived from use of cryotherapy is often dictated by the frequency, intensity and duration of treatment(s).
Typically, cryotherapy treatments are applied between 10 and 30 minutes at a time. For recent, acute inflammations, ice application or massage may be required every two to four hours and later, twice a day, bearing in mind that the inflammation process lasts for about 24-72 hours. The sooner that cryotherapy is applied to an acute injury, the better.
Cryotherapy can reduce the acute inflammatory response, cause a decrease in local circulation, increase blood viscosity and reduce swelling. This can also reduce muscle spasm and increase the pain threshold for uncomfortable, deep friction massage techniques. All these benefits allow the therapist to get into the muscle, work it, reeducate the fibers and clear out the 'junk' so the muscles smoothly glide past one another and function properly on their own and with each other.
Equipment to use could be as simple as a bag of frozen peas. The chemical cold packs work well but there's nothing like a pure piece of ice to rub all over that tormented injury site. If you choose to go with the plain ice, rub it over the affected area without adding too much pressure. Do this until the area is numb and make sure that you do not cause tissue death from excessive freezing to your hands or the affected area. Trust me, this doesn't feel good. I did it to my thumb once and it was swollen and I couldn't feel it for a week. This takes finesse and/or a barrier between your hands and the ice, people. Another technique for those who get weak in the knees during cryotherapy treatments is to place a damp towel between the affected area and the bag of ice and let it sit between 10 to 30 minutes, depending upon depth of injury. The dampness of the towel allows the cold to transfer to the body easier than a dry towel.
These cold plunges are gaining popularity with elite athletes. After arduous training sessions, a short soak can reduce the severity of minor muscle injuries and the inevitable aches and pains. I highly recommend the ice plunge for anyone who's really working their legs. The legs house the largest muscle group in the body. Besides the feet, I think most problems originate, in some form or another, from weakness or injury in the legs. Help your recovery time and better your performance 10 fold with a quick dip in an ice bath, preferably the one here at Crossfit Providence so I can monitor the bath for it's correct therapeutic temperature. We've even got the rubber ducky to keep you company!
Remember that cryotherapy works best for acute, sub-acute injuries and early rehab. If you've tweaked something during a workout in Crossfit, don't wait to drive all the way home, come see me ASAP. We can work together to resolve your issues and make you a stronger, faster, more mobile and healthier athlete.