Cryotherapy is a physiotherapy modality that uses ice/cold for the purpose of pain relief, reduction of reflex muscle spasm, blood flow and acute inflammation. It is most commonly used with sprains and strains. Some contraindications specific to cryotherapy are advanced cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, circulation problems, and a hypo or hypersensitivity to cold. During application, the area should be insulated with a thin cloth or paper towel so as not to expose an ice pack directly on the skin (to avoid frostbite). The ice or cold application time should be approximately 10 to 20 minutes.

The way that ice treats inflammation is by numbing pain and constricting blood vessels to reduce the amount of fluid flow to the area thus decreasing the amount of swelling. There are risks to using ice as with any treatment. The risks being that of cold exposure such as frost bite, blisters, pain, etc...

To avoid this risk is not usually a matter of temperature (the goal often being a reduction of 10-15 degrees Celsius) so much as duration of exposure. It is true that the duration will vary based on the temperature, but when using ice in a clinical setting the temperature is usually 0 degrees because the ice is melting. To further reduce that risk it is often recommended that ice directly from a freezer never be placed directly on the skin, but should be wrapped because it could be colder than 0 degrees.

The general rule for cryotherapy is to apply ice until the area is numb or 20 minutes, which ever comes first. There is no definitive research out there regarding cryotherapy, and there are many different modalities and techniques used clinically. There is no target temperature that every clinic uses and measurement would not be cost effective.