Understanding Continuous Flow Cold Therapy. It’s something to be thankful for!
I got it yesterday! The official announcement that the Pumpkin Spice Latte (PSL for those true fanatics) is now available. I know it is terrible to say this, but that announcement is the official start of fall and all its goodness for me. Goodness like turkey (mmmmm Turkey!!!). The thing is when I think of turkey, I can't help but think of cold therapy. “WAIT WHAT?.?.?. Cold therapy?” Hang with me through this article and hopefully you’ll see why I think this way.
Why cold therapy?
Cold therapy at its core is about pain management. Most often it is considered for injury or post-surgical use but it can really be used for any physically painful condition. Cold slows nerve conductivity (fancy phrase for how fast your nerves send messages throughout your body). It does other things as well like reduce blood flow, through vasoconstriction, and slow the metabolic rate of cells. Both very interesting from a nerdy biology point of view, but you want to feel better, and cold can do that for you.
Better safe than sorry!
Ok, I apologize, I can’t just skim over the biological changes that occur to the body with the cold. “BOOOO….” Cold is a double edged sword (or an awesome blue lightsaber), while it can do great things, if not wielded properly it can also be dangerous. To make matters worse, young padawan (Jedi apprentice, for those who are not star wars fans), you are not factory produced clowns and all perfectly identical. Therefore, you will react to cold differently from the other readers of this article (oh please let someone other than my mom be reading this). Too much cold to your whole body can cause hypothermia. Too much to a specific part of your body can cause frostbite, and localized cell death. Some people simply find cold uncomfortable. It is important when using any cold therapy to monitor how you are feeling and check your skin where the cold is being applied regularly (like several times an hour, often). As always, if you are concerned consult a local healthcare professional before using cold therapy.
It’s how you use it that matters.
“Ok, Andy, let’s wrap this up. Cold pack; 20 minutes on 30 minutes off. Got it”. Honestly, this would be a terrible article (hopefully it's not already) if I just stopped here. Companies have added a bit more technology and knowledge into cold therapy machines, since the good old days. So you can put your bag of peas back in the freezer and save them for your thanksgiving feast (mmmmm Turkey & Peas!!). My personal favorite is the Iceman Classic 3 from Donjoy. They’ve done some cool things with the motor, so that you get great temperature consistency across the pad. Yes folks, I said motor. This type of system is called a continuous flow cold therapy unit. It involves continually pushing ice cooled water through a pad - which is wrapped around the area you want to hurt less - at a continuous controlled rate.
Now, I hear you from here “who cares, ice and ice water, what’s the difference”. And to a certain extent you are right. The machine in itself does nothing special, if you use it the same way you would use that tasty bag of peas. What I mean by that is the 20 minutes on / 30 minutes off technique. I think we first need to understand why we use this intervaled technique. It’s because ice is cold, I mean really cold, too cold for our tissues to handle for extended periods of time. And because of this, we need to allow time for our skin to warm up before reapplying the ice, peas or freezer pack. The key to systems like the Iceman Classic 3 is that they move water at a controlled rate, which allows one's body heat to warm the water up to somewhere around 8 to 12 degrees celsius. This is warm enough to get the benefits of cold therapy while avoiding the imminent skin damage of ice. Once again though, I have to bring up that everyone reacts to cold differently and it is important to self monitor and check your skin regularly. And again, if you are concerned consult a local health care professional before using cold therapy.
Like cooking a turkey.
But wait, it gets better. “No, it can’t get any better”. Oh yes it can. Let’s talk about cooking turkeys to set the stage. Let’s say I take my juicy, well prepared bird and throw it in the oven at maximum heat. “I’m hungry, let’s get this bird cooked fast.” Well, as you can likely guess, if I use maximum heat, I will burn the outside of the turkey and leave the middle raw. But if I use a low and slow technique, I get a nice tasty evenly cooked feast.
A similar idea applies to continuous flow cold therapy. By using a moderately cold temperature for an extended period of time. Nerves deeper than skin level are slowed. This means that nerves at the level of the injury or surgery are affected instead of just the skin nerves. In short, you get much better pain relief from the technique of cold therapy that is achievable with a continuous flow cold therapy system like the Iceman Classic 3. “I feel good, nah nah nah nah nah nah nah…”.
If you're interested, here is a research article from someone way smarter than I am. He found significant (that’s statistical significance, not just regular significance) decreases in reported pain scores, pain medication use, blood loss, and an increase in range of motion after the first week of rehab for patients who had received total knee arthroplasties (fancy work for replacement).
So this fall you can be thankful for great turkey feasts AND awesome cold therapy!!!
Come check out our online store, Capital Medical Supply, for a full range of cold therapy products, including instant cold packs, freezable gel packs, the Aircast Cryocuff, and the Iceman Classic 3 continuous flow cold therapy system.