Cold therapy has proven to be powerfully beneficial in both human and equine healthcare. Used to treat traumas, help heal injuries or as preventative care, cryotherapy is one of the most effective methods for alleviating soft tissue tenderness. Cold therapy can be delivered in the form of ice, very cold water or any of a number of commercial cooling products–the goal is to cool tissues to 50 to 59 degrees Fahrenheit.
Cold therapy numbs the tissues it touches, acting as an analgesic. Additionally, a soft-tissue injury means that the horse's blood vessels leak fluid into the surrounding tissues, causing swelling and pain. The ability to cool tissues at the injury site limits the leaking fluid and inflammation, shortening healing time.
Though cold therapy is helpful, it's important that it not be applied for longer than 20 to 30 minutes at a time; any longer and it could damage tissues. The best treatment for a new injury is to apply cold therapy for 20 minutes, then remove it for 30, repeating as often as possible for the first 36 hours after an injury occurs.
Cold therapy is also helpful in rehabilitation, though it's not the vasoconstriction that's most helpful. In these cases, it's the blood flow that returns to the injured site after the cold is removed that's most beneficial. The blood brings with it white blood cells and other natural chemicals that clean up debris at the injury site.
Once a horse returns to work, it's beneficial to continue cryotherapy on the old injury. This can help minimize stress and inflammation as the tissues begin working again. There's no need to do the 20-on-30-off routine here, however; one 20-minute cold session should suffice.
Horses that exert a lot of energy can also benefit from cold therapy once they've completed their athletic endeavor; this minimizes the chance a horse will stock up and become sore. One application of cold for 20 to 30 minutes should aid in recovery from exertion.
Read more at EQUUS magazine.
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