Nothing beats cold therapy for rapid control of the pain, heat and swelling with acute inflammation. The application of ice does more than just chill or numb the skin to reduce pain. Conventional packs/wraps lower temperatures in the interior of joints, tendons and ligaments by about 10?°.
Lowering the tissue temperature interferes with inflammation by several mechanisms. First, destructive enzymes are stopped in their tracks. Second, the attraction of white blood cells to an area is halted, a first step in the inflammatory reaction.
In addition, the adherence of white blood cells to vessel walls, which eventually causes edema, is decreased. Best of all — and unlike some other anti-inflammatory treatments — these changes occur without any risk of interfering with healing.
When To Ice
Although we advise you to always consult your veterinarian regarding your specific situation, icing can help:
• Any type of acute injury, which includes the muscle.
• Flare-ups of chronic problems with joints, tendons or ligaments.
• As a preventative of flare-ups of chronic problems.
• As a routine/preventative part of post work-out care.
The last two indications are preventative measures, rather than remedies. While many horsemen use leg braces, liniments, sweats and/or poultices to help reduce post-work ailments, we’ve found icing/cold therapy also has keen benefits that help reduce the effects of physical stress on the horse’s body.
A hard work, competition or race puts considerable strain on any horse’s legs. If the horse already has a known problem area, the risk of strain and inflammation with day-after swelling, stiffness and pain is even greater. Even if your usual post work/competition care includes poultices, wraps or even sweats, you may note even better results if you incorporate immediate post-work icing into your routine.
We apply cooling wraps as soon as possible after a work and leave them on for 30 minutes or until the lower legs feel uniformly cool when the wraps are removed.
As an added bonus, the cooling actually makes it easier to pick up genuine problem areas, rather than hiding them. When you find a spot that is obviously hotter than the rest of the leg after the wraps come off, it’s a red flag to watch that area.
More is not better. Although it doesn’t happen often, nerve damage can occur from the application of extreme cold. Extreme cold can also cause enough microscopic damage to surface blood vessels that the area you’re treating actually swells more after the therapy than it would have without it. Damage is more likely when using ice than ice packs, but it’s basically preventable with cold packs by keeping a thin layer of fabric between the ice and the skin surface.
Many people believe that if you ice/cool an area for longer than 10 to 30 minutes, there will be a “rebound” effect where the blood flow becomes even greater than it would have been without the cooling. Although studies are contradictory as to whether long-term icing is better than icing for a 20- to 30-minute period, it’s clear that a rebound effect does not occur unless the cooling temperature used was low enough to cause damage.
We used the cooling boots after workouts under late spring/summer conditions with temperatures ranging from 75?° to 85?°. The horses’ legs were hosed before icing. Interiors of the boots were checked for cooling effects at 15 minutes, 30 minutes, 45 minutes and one hour after application. To determine if your cold-therapy boots are still cooling the leg, you need to check the inside of the boot and the leg temperature. The outer surfaces of wraps remain cool to the touch for considerably longer than the inside.
We liked that Cold One also has a cooler/carrying pouch available. This nifty item is lightweight and constructed of the same materials as the boots, with a hook-and-loop closure. It has a solid bottom with coolant and soft sides that collapse to take up little room in the freezer.
Unopened, it will keep the wraps maximally frozen for one to two hours if kept out of direct sun/extreme heat. Including additional solid ice packs in the cooler extends the life of the boots to several hours. We think it’s a great alternative to a cooler full of chopped ice.
We also found some boots could hold up to “double duty.” The EZ Ice, MacKinnon First Ice and Fabri-Tech boots can also be used for heating by either soaking the cells in boiled water or microwaving them.
Their insulation is even more effective at holding heat. Although we didn’t include heat therapy in our trials, the application of heat is good for old, stiff-leg problems and a great way to soothe sore backs. All the wraps are wide enough to cover the paraspinal muscles on both sides of the back and the longer ones will also cover the gluteal muscles.
The boots come with gel packs. You can purchase extra packs from the manufacturer, but most packs will last several months if not a year or more. Avoid excessive tightening, as this can rupture the cells/packs, although it’s not easy to do.
The boots can be cleaned by brushing, hosing or washing in a mild detergent. Because bacteria and mold grow readily in moist environments, thoroughly dry boots after cleaning and between uses. Hang them or place them flat with the inner surface exposed to air and sun for drying.
Gel-pack cooling boots beat crushed ice hands down for easier application and longer cooling periods. Crushed ice lasts 20 to 30 minutes in warm weather, while gel packs contain a special coolant that extends the time from 45 to an hour without the mess from melting ice.
For price, fit/conformity, security, duration of cooling and durability, we like the Dura-Kold boots best. Next in line for duration of cooling were the MacKinnon First Ice boots, which can double as heating boots. However, their stiffness may prevent good skin contact and security.
Since security and good conformity to the leg are critical to the boot being effective, we were also impressed with the Cold One, Reitsport and EZ Ice units, all of which provided reliable cooling for about an hour and are good choices.