The 8 Best Cold Therapy Machines
This wiki has been updated 14 times since it was first published in October of 2018. Icing soft-tissue injuries is a fantastic way to reduce post-surgical pain and swelling, while shortening recovery time. However, changing out traditional ice packs can be impractical, while holding them in place can be uncomfortable. These cold therapy machines use ice-filled containers and external tubes to keep therapy pads consistently chilled, offering you convenient, soothing relief. When users buy our independently chosen editorial choices, we may earn commissions to help fund the Wiki.
November 09, 2020:
Cold therapy machines can be a great, drug-free alternative to pain medication, and are often more convenient than simple ice packs. However, if you're post surgery or have an injury, please remember to consult with your doctor before use.
If you travel frequently, you’ll probably want a portable, lightweight unit that is easy to take on the road. We added the relatively small Koozam Cuff, a good travel-friendly option that weighs under six pounds. However, the Aircast Cryo is the lightest option on our list, weighing only three pounds. A lack of a traditional motor contributes to the portability of these devices, since a pump can easily add bulk and weight. Because the aforementioned options are motor-free, and use gravity-fed “power,” they have the added benefit of noiseless use. That being said, these two are also excellent choices if you want to ensure a quiet therapeutic experience.
If you need a machine that will stay cold through the night, the Ossur Rush is a great option, as it's guaranteed to provide six hours of continued use. The Polar Products Active Ice 3.0, which replaced the heavier, outdated Polar Products Active Ice 2.0, is also a good long-lasting choice due to its ability to hold up to nine quarts of water. Additionally, the Koozam Cuff will stay cold for 12 hours, despite its small size.
A simple feature that you may find convenient is transparency. If you want to check water level at a glance, instead of opening the machine or reading an indicator, you may want to look for options with clear containers. Two recent additions to our list, the Vive System and the Coolman Universal, use practical, see-through bases, with the latter including water-level marks for easy measuring.
October 25, 2018:
Included the PMT Medical ARS Aqua, despite its considerable limitations, due to its ability to offer two treatment options in one machine. The Aircast Cryo Cuff was chosen for its effectiveness with knee injuries, although it requires purchasing separate accessories to work on other areas of the body.
A Brief History Of Cold Therapy
Fay began to experiment with hypothermia as a way to prevent and cure cancerous growths, and he would leave patients packed in up to 150 pounds of ice for hours at a time.
Using cold therapy to boost healing and ward off disease has a long and colorful history, dating all the way back to at least the ancient Egyptians, who in 3500 B.C.E. used ice to treat abscesses and other infirmities.
The legendary Greek healer Hippocrates also saw the benefits of cold therapy, as he would use snow to help stop hemorrhaging or ease pain. Ice would be used as an anesthetic during the Napoleonic Era, especially with amputations.
Cold therapy wasn't seriously studied until the early 19th century, however, when an English physician named James Arnott began to publish his findings on the use of salt and crushed ice to treat tumors. Arnott found that low temperatures could reduce inflammation, and he even tried to prove that ice could cure cancer (spoiler alert: it did not).
That didn't stop an American neurosurgeon named Temple Fay in the 20th century, however. Fay began to experiment with hypothermia as a way to prevent and cure cancerous growths, and he would leave patients packed in up to 150 pounds of ice for hours at a time. His methods showed promise, but like so many others before him, he failed to account for one small problem: Adolf Hitler.
The Nazis learned of Fay's work and began to do their own experimenting. Unfortunately, they were far less concerned with saving people than with making them miserable, and most of their so-called experiments were just thinly-veiled torture. As a result, any data they accrued was disregarded, and the stench from their activities would go on to taint Fay's reputation, as well.
As a result, hypothermia as treatment went unstudied until the mid-1980s, at which point an anesthesiologist named Peter Safar noticed that extremely low brain temperatures could prevent damage following cardiac arrest. This new discovery came at a time when there were several high-profile cases of people "coming back from the dead" after freezing or drowning, causing some researchers to take a deeper look at cold therapy.
This resulted in the creation of cryotherapy in 1978, which was the brainchild of Toshima Yamauchi, a doctor in search of a cure for rheumatoid arthritis. The process started with the application of frozen instruments to small parts of the body, but soon evolved to become a total-body process using specialized "cryochambers" or "cryosaunas."
Today, cryotherapy is becoming more and more popular, with devotees claiming it helps with everything from aches and pains to rejuvenating tired skin. Whether cold therapy is useful for anything other than reducing inflammation remains to be seen, however, and research into the process is ongoing.
There is one thing we can all agree on, though: we have no idea where the ancient Egyptians managed to find ice.
Benefits Of A Cold Therapy Machine
Unless you're a professional athlete, you may think there's little reason to have a dedicated cold therapy machine in your home. Everyday people can benefit from these devices just as much as fitness buffs, though.
Unless you're a professional athlete, you may think there's little reason to have a dedicated cold therapy machine in your home.
The primary benefit these machines offer is pain relief. This can be for everyday bumps and bruises or for more serious injuries, such as those requiring surgery. Cryotherapy has been shown to help reduce recovery time following an operation, so it's definitely worth having a cold therapy device handy if you expect to go under the knife soon.
It's not just your muscles that can benefit, either. The cold can inhibit your nerves' ability to conduct impulses, helping to reduce non-muscle-based pain, as well. This is good news for migraine sufferers, or for those with illnesses causing nerve irritation.
Even mood disorders and certain skin conditions may benefit from a little freeze-out. This is believed to be due to the fact that the cold can cause the release of certain hormones, like adrenaline and endorphins, while also boosting the blood's ability to carry those hormones throughout the body.
None of this is to say that these machines are miracle workers. You'll still need to follow your doctor's instructions and take good care of yourself, which will likely include eating well, exercising regularly, and taking any prescribed medications. The cold therapy machine won't replace any of these things — but it could potentially make them more effective.
Getting The Most Out Of Your Cold Therapy Machine
If you're not familiar with how to use your cold therapy machine, it may be a little daunting at first. The brief guide below will help ensure you get the most out of your new gadget.
When dealing with an injury or other trauma, one of the most important things you can do is to be prompt with the therapy — icing it within 48 hours is crucial. This can minimize the inflammation that occurs as a result, while also potentially staunching minor internal bleeding and reducing pain.
You can do several sessions in one sitting, but take breaks in between to let your body recover.
Be mindful of what time you choose to use your machine, as well. Try to wait a few hours after a workout, unless the pain is unbearable, as that allows your muscles time to respond naturally to the rigors of the exercise. Using the device first thing in the morning can help wake you up, or you can use it just before bed to lower your core temperature and get you ready for a good night's sleep.
Don't overdo it, either. While some machines can operate continuously for hours at a time, this generally isn't recommended unless you've been advised to do so by a doctor. Stick to 10 or 20 minute sessions. You can do several sessions in one sitting, but take breaks in between to let your body recover.
You may also want to alternate the cold therapy with a heating pad. Going back and forth between temperatures can provide a double whammy of pain- and inflammation-relief.
If you're dedicated and responsible with your efforts, consistent cold therapy treatments could have an amazing impact on your health and wellness. Don't worry, though — even if it makes your aches and pains go away, you can still tell your spouse you desperately need a massage.