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Cryotherapy: Ice Packs vs. Liquid Nitrogen

Posted on December 02 2016

“Cryotherapy: Ice Packs vs. Liquid Nitrogen”
Cryotherapy refers to a variety of applications of cold materials that can be used to treat sports injuries. Since cryotherapy reduces blood flow to an injured area, it reduces swelling, numbs the area, and reduces muscle spasms. Cryotherapy tends to work well for acute sports injuries. Two common forms of cryotherapy involve the use of ice packs and liquid nitrogen.

Ice Pack Therapy

Using an ice pack is the most common and often the most effective type of cryotherapy. Often, it is used for minor injuries and to alleviate soreness. To use an ice pack, simply place a plastic bag full of ice or a factory-made ice pack on the injured area to absorb heat from in injury. If you plan on using a bag of ice, use crushed ice so it can conform comfortably to the injured area. The layer of ice should also only be about an inch thick so the bag is lightly placed on the injury. For minor injuries, an ice pack should be placed on the injured area for 20 minutes and then removed to allow the injured area to return to body temperature. This can be repeated for up to 72 hours after the injury to reduce pain and swelling.

Liquid Nitrogen

Liquid nitrogen is used in a variety of cryotherapy products. However, liquid nitrogen can be dangerous because it can cause frostbite. Some instant ice packs include liquid nitrogen. There are two bags within an instant ice pack; one bag has water and the other bag is filled with liquid nitrogen. By squeezing the instant ice pack, you break the two inner bags and a chemical reaction causes the ice pack to become cold quickly. Do not refrigerate an instant ice pack before use because it can cause frostbite. Also, be sure to only use it for 20 minutes at a time to avoid frostbite. Luckily, newer instant ice packs are being created without liquid nitrogen. If you plan on purchasing an instant ice pack, be sure to read the package to see what is inside so you can avoid buying a dangerous and potentially toxic packet.

Another cryotherapy product that uses liquid nitrogen is a cryosauna. Cryosaunas are cold saunas were a person stands in a chamber that reduces the outer skin temperature from 32.5 °C to +5 – +12 °C in 60 seconds or less for up to 3 minutes. Websites that support cryosaunas such as Medical Daily claim that cryosaunas are safe and painless because the cold temperatures caused by the liquid nitrogen only affects the outer layers of skin. So far, there have been no causes of frostbite when using cryosaunas. However, not much research has been done on this cryotherapy method, and it is expensive with an average cost of $70 per treatment.


Non Chemical based ice packs are much safer and affordable than cryotherapy treatments that use liquid nitrogen. When using products that contain liquid nitrogen, you can increase the risk of getting frostbite if you are not well supervised. If you are looking for a reusable ice pack that will safely and effectively give you relief with a compression component as well, consider a Heat and Ice Pack from ActiveWrap®. Unlike traditional chemical based blue ice packs, ActiveWrap systems provides uniform pain relief that you can customize to your exact area of your injury. With an ActiveWrap®, you will receive the relief you need.

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