Cryotherapy for Sports Injury—Why, When and How


As an athlete, it is inevitable that at some point you will experience an injury. Whether it is a minor deep tissue bruise or something that requires surgery, cryotherapy can aid in recovery and pain management.

“Using cold or ice on an injury is beneficial in helping to control swelling, reduce bleeding and it may even help with pain management,” says Dr. Michael Miller, of St. Elizabeth Sports Medicine.

Why Cryotherapy is Effective

Cryotherapy helps reduce swelling and bleeding by constricting the blood vessels. “Ice may be applied immediately after an injury, not only to control swelling and bleeding, but also to help manage pain. The cold can temporarily slow down the nerve activity and create a numbing effect, which can reduce pain,” says Dr. Miller

When You Should Use Cryotherapy

In addition to its use following an injury, ice may also help reduce muscle soreness after a tough workout. For acute injuries, ice should be applied for 20-30 minutes, three to four times a day for as long as there is persistent bleeding or evidence of inflammation, including pain, swelling or redness.

“There is no specific time frame; ice may be indicated for the first 24 hours, or for several days following the injury,” says Dr. Miller. “As long as you have persistent bleeding, pain, swelling or muscle spasm, cold therapy may be beneficial.”

How to Use Cryotherapy Safely

“Cryotherapy can cause tissue damage or frostbite if it is not applied appropriately,” says Dr. Miller. He cautions that cold therapy should never be placed directly on the skin.

Use crushed ice in a bag with a cloth barrier on the injured or sore area. The cloth should be wet so that it transfers the cold faster to the area.

If you have a large surface area that is sore or injured, ice massage can be effective. Freeze a paper cup full of water and peel the top of the cup away from the ice. The bottom of the cup can then be used as a handle as you massage the sore muscle. The massage time should be approximately 5-10 minutes.

Avoid ice water immersion. Dr. Miller warns, “It is not a good idea to stick your injured body in a bucket of ice water. It surprises most people when they learn that the safest water temperature for immersion cold therapy is between 55 and 59 degrees Fahrenheit.” Immersion therapy should only be done with the assistance of appropriate healthcare professionals in a monitored setting. If done incorrectly it could cause frostbite or tissue damage.

The newest trend in cryotherapy is whole body cryotherapy, which is currently being offered by Griffin Elite. In whole-body cryotherapy, you stand in a unit that exposes your body to temperatures exceeding minus 200 degrees Fahrenheit for two to four minutes. Dr. Miller cautions, “Before trying whole-body cryotherapy, it is important to first discuss it with your doctor.”

If you have a sports injury that needs further evaluation, call today to make an appointment at St. Elizabeth Sports Medicine at (859) 301-5600.