Cryotherapy and Thermotherapy
The physiologic basis and clinical applications of cryotherapy and thermotherapy for the pain practitioner.
Cryotherapy and thermotherapy are useful adjuncts for the treatment of musculoskeletal injuries.
Clinicians treating these conditions should be aware of current research findings regarding these modalities, because their choice of modality may affect the ultimate outcome of the patient being treated. Through a better understanding of these modalities, clinicians can optimize their present treatment strategies.
Although cold and hot treatment modalities both decrease pain and muscle spasm, they have opposite effects on tissue metabolism, blood flow, inflammation, edema, and connective tissue extensibility. Cryotherapy decreases these effects while thermotherapy increases them.
Continuous low-level cryotherapy and thermotherapy are newer concepts in therapeutic modalities. Both modalities provide significant pain relief with a low side-effect profile.
Contrast therapy, which alternates between hot and cold treatment modalities, provides no additional therapeutic benefits compared with cryotherapy or thermotherapy alone.
Complications of cryotherapy include nerve damage, frostbite, Raynaud's phenomenon, cold-induced urticaria, and slowed wound healing. With thermotherapy, skin burns may occur, especially in patients with diabetes mellitus, multiple sclerosis, poor circulation, and spinal cord injuries.
In individuals with rheumatoid arthritis, deep-heating modalities should be used with caution because increased inflammation may occur. Whirlpool and other types of hydrotherapy have caused infections of the skin, urogenital, and pulmonary systems.
Additionally, ultrasound should not be used in patients with joint prostheses.
Nadler SF, Weingand K, Kruse RJ
Director of Sports Medicine, New Jersey Medical School, 90 Bergen Street, Suite 3100, Newark, New Jersey 07102.
Pain Physician. 2004 Jul;7(3):395-9.
PMID: 16858479 [PubMed - in process]