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Is ice right? Does cryotherapy improve outcome for acute soft tissue injury?
  1. N C Collins
  1. Department of Emergency Medicine, University Hospital Galway, Galway, Ireland
  1. Dr N C Collins, Department of Emergency Medicine, University Hospital Galway, Newcastle Road, Galway, Ireland; nievoc{at}


Aims: The use of ice or cryotherapy in the management of acute soft tissue injuries is widely accepted and widely practised. This review was conducted to examine the medical literature to investigate if there is evidence to support an improvement in clinical outcome following the use of ice or cryotherapy.

Methods: A comprehensive literature search was performed and all human and animal trials or systematic reviews pertaining to soft tissue trauma, ice or cryotherapy were assessed. The clinically relevant outcome measures were (1) a reduction in pain; (2) a reduction in swelling or oedema; (3) improved function; or (4) return to participation in normal activity.

Results: Six relevant trials in humans were identified, four of which lacked randomisation and blinding. There were two well conducted randomised controlled trials, one showing supportive evidence for the use of a cooling gel and the other not reaching statistical significance. Four animal studies showed that modest cooling reduced oedema but excessive or prolonged cooling is damaging. There were two systematic reviews, one of which was inconclusive and the other suggested that ice may hasten return to participation.

Conclusion: There is insufficient evidence to suggest that cryotherapy improves clinical outcome in the management of soft tissue injuries.

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  • Competing interests: None declared.

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