Cold Therapy: An Alternative to Opioids

A guide to recovering smarter, faster with cold therapy

For decades, medical professionals and researchers have dedicated their time to figure out the best way to help patients manage post-operative pain. Unfortunately, one of the most common solutions—prescription opioids—comes with a bevy of side effects, including the risk of addiction. That’s where cold therapy comes in. 

Why Cold Therapy Works

Medical research has proven the far-reaching and effective benefits of cold therapy in helping to alleviate pain, reduce discomfort, and improve recovery time following surgery or injury. Cold therapy works by constricting blood vessels, which in turn reduces swelling and inflammation, lessening pain. It also helps reduce bruising and prevents tissue damage caused by hypoxemia, a condition that occurs when the body is deprived of adequate oxygen supply at the tissue level. All of this combined ultimately alleviates pain and improves recovery times. 

Cold Therapy and the Opioid Epidemic

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an average of 130 Americans die every day from opioid overdoses. Cold therapy has been proven to help limit the overuse of narcotics while recovering from surgery or injury by offering a non-pharmacological approach to pain management. Dependency on opioids is a major concern for both patients and providers.

In fact, in 2017, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services declared a public health emergency over the national opioid epidemic. Narcotics help relieve pain by triggering the release of pleasure-inducing, pain-muffling endorphins in the brain (Mayo Clinic). Over time, the repeated use of opioids leads to the body gaining a tolerance against these endorphins. This means that a person must continuously take more opioids to experience the same effects. And, unlike other forms of addiction such as alcohol dependency, it’s difficult to predict who may be especially susceptible to becoming addicted.

Additionally, opioid use can lead to a number of side effects, such as a weakened immune system, depression, and even changes in brain activity and hormone levels. A study by St. Louis University found that in 100,000 patients who were prescribed opioids, 9 to 12 percent developed new-onset depression after using them for only one month. For patients hoping to return to work or regular athletic activity quickly following surgery while avoiding the use of narcotics and their potential side effects, cold therapy offers a safe, reliable, and relatively inexpensive option.

How to Use Cold Therapy

The RICE method—Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation—remains one of the most popular ways to help reduce swelling and pain following an injury or operation without the use of opioids. But homemade ice packs are not always effective enough to properly implement this strategy due to leaks, the inability to adhere to appendages, and the fact that cold cannot be maintained. Icing can also be challenging for patients recovering from surgery done on hard-to-reach places, such as the ankle, knee, shoulder, hip, or back. 

How Lake Effect is Different

Unlike other traditional forms of applying cold, our SnoPak™ is compatible with all of our wraps and splints, reusable, and utilizes direct-stick technology to help patients keep cold on the affected area continuously. Simply pop the SnoPak™ in the freezer and reapply as needed.

Lake Effect products combine lightweight compression and joint stabilization through our Universal Wrap series, which offers options for injuries to the ankle, wrist, hip, back, shoulder, and knee. We also developed the Universal Wrap Mini with smaller contact pad features for use with a single SnoPak™, making it the ideal fit for smaller ankle and wrist injuries as well as for children. Additionally, our True Zero™ Knee helps patients regain full knee extension by applying targeted pressure through a hidden air pocket and works with the True Zero™ Foam Pillow to provide extra stability for the leg during application, when resting, or during stretching protocol.

Using cold therapy can help patients reduce pain, lower opioid dependence and get back in the game faster. We would call that a win-win-win.

Lake Effect is dedicated to providing value-based care through innovative cold therapy devices to help patients minimize pain and maximize recovery. To find out more about how we can help you recover smarter and get back on your feet faster, contact us today.