It was 5:30 in the morning and the alarm rang on my husband's mobile. Having got a call a month ago at the same time in the morning, saying that my mom was ill and she has been hospitalized, I got up thinking that it was a call again of similar kind and not the alarm that woke me up. I turned my head up and back, together, suddenly and pulled a muscle or two in the neck. Being a physical therapist, I knew exactly what to do and applied ice on the neck for 10 minutes, since i was in the acute stage. This happened 2 days back and few hours after I applied ice, I could move my neck to the same side as that of the injury and I was unable to that before. I applied ice again at night and the next day I could move my neck even better.
In this post, I would like to share my knowledge on crotherapy and the logic behind its application. Cryotherapy is the application of ice for treatment of soft tissue injuries, mainly. The soft tissues I am talking about here are muscles, ligaments, menisci, so on and so forth. Bone is not a soft tissue. Whenever there is a soft tissue injury, we see there is swelling around that region. When ice is applied to the swolled part, the swelling comes down and so does the pain and muscle spasm.
How is the swelling reduced?
The logic behind the application of ice is that the blood vessels constrict when ice is applied and then dilate later. By this, when the blood vessels are dilated, a gush of blood flows out and clears the fluid which creates the swelling from the site of injury.
How is the pain reduced?
Application of ice also reduces pain. The application of ice after sometime causes a sensation of burning or pain on the skin and this pain is perceived more than that of the pain caused due to injury and thus the pain due to injury is reduced. This process is called counter-iritant effect which is also the logic behind topical applications like balms and pain relieving ointments. Another theory says that when there is injury, pain producing substances are also released at the site of injury and by application of ice, the vasodilatation which clears the swelling, also washes out the pain producing substances.
How does ice relieve spasm?
Ice application also reduces muscle spasm. Spasm is a defensive mechanism to protect the body parts from further injury. The muscles around the site of injury undergo spasm to prevent that particular part form further injury.Application of ice alleviates pain and swelling. The pain producing substances and the swelling are the reminders for the muscle to remain in the state of spasm as they are the indicators of injury. So when these substances are washed out through application of ice, the spasm is also reduced.
There are different methods of application of ice. You find ice packs in the market. Those of you who can't find or afford to buy those or when injury occurs to soft tissues in the region which is not flat, you can go for ice bags, ice towels. The best method to apply ice at home is crush the ice and put it in a plastic bag or a dry cloth and apply it over the site of injury for 10 minutes or less but not more than that as it might lead to skin injury.
Uses of ice clinically are many. I would not recommend using ice for other forms of injury at home, as it is used for in the clinic.
Till the next post, stay healthy folks !!!!!!!!!!!!!!