For athletic injuries, RICE (Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation) is still a tried-and-true therapy, but a new approach called active cold compression may lead to quicker healing.
Active cold compression uses a Velcro wrap with a built-in cooling element, similar in design to a blood pressure cuff. You secure the wrap around the injured area and inflate it. It reduces the time you need to spend on compression by 15 to 30 minutes.
According to one case study, the cuff “mimics natural muscle contractions while cooling the tissue, helping the body to proactively aid lymphatic function, encourage cellular oxygen supply and stimulate tissue repair.” Compared to the conventional RICE method, this form of active cold compression speeds up the healing process and reduces prolonged swelling.
Active cold compression moves the swelling from the injury site. White blood cells, lymphatic fluid and red blood cells are ushered to and from the injury site, reducing swelling and increasing range of motion.
Relieving the swelling allows you to begin physical therapy sooner, to increase your strength and range of motion. Another benefit of active cold compression is shorter duration of usage, reducing the risk of frostbite related to skin contact. After a 20-minute treatment of active cold compression, your tissue remains much cooler than with RICE. Physiologically, that means more blood flow to the injury site and a greater reduction in swelling, leading to increased joint mobility.
To correctly use this method, you need a unit, such as Game Ready’s ACCELL Technology or Squid Compression, that specifically provides active cold compression. Select the appropriate apparatus for your injury. I suggest not using a “universal” sleeve or wrap, as they don’t produce accurate results.
Don’t wrap the injury too tightly or the compression may be too uncomfortable. Place the wrap relatively snug compared to the swelling; you want the compression to be able to do its job.
Always be cautious with direct skin contact. If you feel the wrap is too cold, turn the temperature up and/or place a barrier between your skin and the wrap. A 20- to 30-minute icing protocol is normal. You won’t need to apply the “20 minutes on, 20 minutes off procedure” like the typical RICE method, because swelling reduction lasts longer.