Ice therapy machines for pain treatment are effective, but expensive. Is there an equally effective and cheaper alternative?

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Ice therapy machines for pain treatment are effective, but expensive. Is there an equally effective and cheaper alternative?

If you’re prone to injuries either because you’re an athlete or clumsy, chances are, you are no stranger to ice therapy. In some cases, though, you don’t have ready-made ice readily available, so you grab the next best thing — a bag of frozen peas. 

Minutes later, swelling and pain are both kept to a minimum, but you are left with a pool of water on the floor and a hint of smelly peas on your skin.     

This messy and unhygienic scenario is all too common. If you’re still relying on frozen packs of vegetables to get the job done, why not invest in reusable gel packs? They’re convenient, clean and cheaply priced, costing no more than six two-pound bags of green peas at Walmart.  

Apart from gel packs, though, cold therapy machines are stirring interest among chronic pain sufferers. Read on to know more about this cool machine.  

What is an ice therapy machine? 

Reflecting on the benefits of cold therapy, these devices improve injuries by reducing swelling, minimizing pain and speeding up recovery.   

Ice therapy machines come with either manual or automatic compression systems. Automatic compression pumps are electronic, while  manual or non-motorized units are gravity-fed. 

Pump, pads, reservoir, hose or tubings, bladder and power cord make up the basic parts of a cold therapy machine. 

Most ice therapy machines are available for use by (orthopedic) rehabilitation centers, hospitals, clinics and sports teams. There are, however, portable machines being sold or rented out by medical suppliers and companies for personal home use. 

How does an ice therapy machine work?

The RICE (rest, ice, compression and elevation) technique remains widely practiced and highly recommended in treating injuries. Ice therapy machines claim to incorporate the said method’s two vital components – ice and compression.

Cold therapy machines have attached compression pads where icy water flows through continuously. These rubber pads at the end of the tubing or hose are placed on the injured or inflamed area, into which icy water is continuously applied via a cycling pump. An electric pump moves the water through the hoses.   

Some machines come with pads that could be wrapped around the joints.In some cases, you may have to buy these pads separately.  

As with other cold therapy tools, the machine is effective in reducing pain because ice lessens nerve ending sensitivity and numbs pain receptors that inhibit the pain messages sent to the brain. 

Reduced swelling is due to vasoconstriction, a natural consequence of cold therapy. Constricted blood vessels prevent excess fluids from accumulating in an area. This process is vital because fluid build-up prolongs recovery time.  

By providing external pressure, compression helps in further eliminating the accumulation of excess fluids and aids in the reduction or prevention of swelling. 

Cold therapy lowers cell activity and cellular metabolism, which keeps cells alive for a longer period. This allows inflamed tissues to recover faster.

How much does an ice therapy machine usually cost? 

A cold therapy unit costs $200 on average, but you might need to spend more on additional pads (at least $50 each) and bladders ($219 each).  

You can lease the machine from medical equipment suppliers daily at around $15, weekly at $40, and $75 bi-weekly. These rates do not include compression pads and other accessories priced at an average of $50.  

The median monthly rental fee for an ice therapy machine costs $125, with some companies asking for surcharge fees that cost $40 from those who cannot return the unit in a month, or those whose rented unit was subjected to wear and tear. 

You will need to balance your needs and your budget. If you have recently undergone surgery, you are repeatedly afflicted by chronic pains or you’ve got money to spend, then purchasing a cold therapy machine may be worthwhile.   

But if you only need to treat those intermittent sports (or clumsiness) injuries, you could spend no more than $14.99 for a reusable hot and cold gel pack that offers the same benefits as an ice therapy machine.  

When should I use ice therapy?

Post-Surgery Recovery  Patients usually experience incessant pain and inflammation following surgery. To speed up healing and reduce swelling, a cold therapy session is recommended. A top quality yet affordable cold gel pack is as effective as the more expensive ice therapy machine.

Chronic Pain and Inflammation  Sprains, strains, and joint pains — if you have had previous episodes or continue to suffer from these, cold therapy is your best friend. Unlike cold therapy machines where you might need someone to set up for you, cold gel packs are handy and can be used straight out of the freezer.

Natural Pain Relief  Opioid addiction is prevalent in some countries. According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), opioids come with too many side-effects and are far too addictive to be the first choice in chronic pain treatment. Natural relief from cold therapy helps prevent reliance on pain killers and is better for your overall health.

Why you should get gel packs instead

In managing pain and injuries, the RICE technique is only the initial part of the treatment. Two days following an injury, and when the swelling has subsided, comes the need to apply heat for overall faster healing. Because of this, the cheaper and equally effective multi-use gel pack is a better investment than an ice therapy machine.  

Below are the advantages of gel packs over cold therapy machines:   

  • Relatively cheap and widely available.
  • It can be used for both cold and hot therapies.
  • It comes in many shapes and sizes that are suitable for different parts of the body. Pads for the machine may need to be bought separately depending on which body part you need the treatment. 
  • They are reusable and easy to maintain. You don’t need to buy pads or other accessories.
  • If the machine breaks, some parts may not be available for replacement, so you need to buy a new one.

Unlike cold therapy machines, which could be a bit complicated for others to use, gel packs remain flexible and functional after you remove it from the freezer. Just insert it in the sleeve pouch, place it on the affected area, and secure and compress the pack on the target area using the elastic band that goes with it.    

An ice therapy machine may be best for persons recuperating from a surgery, but paying a high price for a single function unit is not so cool. 

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