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Freeze Warning

Researchers study use of cold therapy

Ice Pack

Ice baths may not sound like a lot of fun, but in certain situations, they can be therapeutic.

Cold therapy is commonly used after orthopedic surgery and in sports medicine to reduce bleeding, inflammation, metabolism, muscle spasms, pain, and swelling. While therapeutically beneficial, the treatment often comes with a number of side effects, including nerve and tissue damage and neuropathy. These are likely the result of reductions in blood flow in the cooled areas, which can remain reduced for up to three hours following treatment.

Matthew Brothers, associate professor in UTA's Department of Kinesiology, is collaborating with Kenneth Diller, professor of biomedical engineering at UT Austin, to better understand the reasons for these cold-induced blood flow reductions. Their work is supported by a four-year, $1.1 million grant from the National Institutes of Health.

The research will be one of the first of its kind designed to determine effective and safe use of cryotherapy treatment.

"Our project will establish the optimal times and temperatures for treatment and test ways to stimulate blood flow to the treatment areas," says Dr. Brothers. "The ultimate goal of this research is to use scientific evidence to help inform the design of new cryotherapy devices that provide therapeutic benefits while minimizing the harmful side effects."

Currently, there are no protocols for the use of such devices, despite general awareness of the risks they pose to patients, notes Anne Bavier, dean of the College of Nursing and Health Innovation. "This valuable work will provide the knowledge and new technologies needed to ensure patient safety while providing the benefits that cooling treatments have been known for since the time of Hippocrates."

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