When it comes to sports injuries, nasty knocks, sprains, and twists, cold therapy is your first line of defense against inflammation and tissue damage. But a bag of frozen peas isn’t your only option. Cold therapy packs are a far more convenient way to quell pain and minimize swelling, and most are reusable to boot.
Available in a multitude of sizes and shapes, cold therapy packs can be applied to just about any area of the body, and most are pliable to provide maximum contact over muscle contours and joints. However, finding the perfect one amid hundreds of options can be tough. What size? Straps or no straps? Which features can help prevent leaks? Should you consider an option that can be used for both heat and cold therapy?
If you need a hand choosing a cold therapy pack, you’re in luck. Our buying guide is crammed with helpful advice, tips, tricks, and product recommendations to make finding the best cold therapy pack a breeze.
Cold therapy vs. heat therapy
Both cold and heat therapy can be used to manage pain caused by injuries or chronic inflammatory conditions. However, each has its own distinctive set of benefits, and getting the timing just right is key to achieving optimal results. Let’s take a closer look at the difference between heat and cold therapy to find out how each can help at different stages of recovery.
Cold therapy: Also known as cryotherapy, cold therapy slows blood flow to the injured site and can significantly decrease swelling. Cold therapy also acts as an excellent, albeit temporary, local anesthetic. Cold therapy is most effective when applied within 48 hours of sustaining an injury.
Heat therapy: On the opposite end of the spectrum is heat therapy. Rather than slowing blood flow, heat therapy boosts circulation and relaxes stiff muscles. Heat therapy is best used to ease pain and promote healing once any inflammation has already been treated with cold therapy. Heat therapy is also ideal for chronic pain caused by old injuries or arthritis.
Type of cold therapy packs
Reusable cold therapy packs are typically filled with gel or clay, while disposables contain a combination of water and cooling agents.
Regular cold therapy packs: The average reusable cold therapy pack is filled with gel or clay and serves a singular purpose: to provide cooling, inflammation-fighting relief.
Heat and cold therapy packs: Hands down the most versatile, heat and cold therapy packs are constructed of materials that can be heated or frozen. This conveniently allows you to alternate between heat and cold therapy using a single product.
Disposable cold therapy packs: These handy packs are primarily designed for emergencies or use on the go and require no freezing. Most consist of two layers: the outer layer is filled with water while the inner layer contains cooling agents. In the event of an injury, a shake or squeeze of the pack activates the cooling agent.
The area of the body and extent of the injury will determine the best size of cold therapy pack. While smaller packs are ideal for joints or tendons, larger cold therapy packs provide fuller coverage for areas like the back, hips, thighs, or arms. Longer cold therapy packs also come in handy if you need something that can comfortably be wrapped around a limb or draped across the neck and shoulders.
If you need a cold pack for a single injury or just want to be prepared for any eventuality, durability might not be too much of a concern. However, if you’re an active individual who frequently pushes your body to the limits at the gym, on the sports field, or at a physically demanding job, it’s wise to choose a reliable cold therapy pack that won’t let you down when you need it most.
Not surprisingly, the materials are directly linked to a cold therapy pack’s durability. Those with a thin plastic shell and glued seams are far more likely to spring a leak than those with a more robust construction. For superior durability and leak-free confidence, look for a thick plastic shell or one that’s backed with nylon, as well as securely stitched edges.