What is the best Ice therapy machine? Since this is a long-lasting therapy that may take up to a month, pay attention to such thing as the level of noise during its operation. Indeed, the device should irritate neither the user nor his family members. On top of that, you can use a noiseless unit while sleeping. Some models offer wrap attachments while others come with pads. The former ones are recommended for people with injured joints as they cover a larger area and are considered to be more effective. Another aspect to consider is how long your ice therapy machine will run. And finally, an auto shut-off and other beneficial features are also worth considering as they make the treatment more comfortable and safe. We believe that Polar Products Active Ice 3.0 Knee & Joint Cold Therapy System fits these criteria best.
This guide covers the TOP best ice therapy machines of different design and capacity. You will learn some interesting facts about this therapy and what symptoms it is intended to cure. Find out how cold therapy can aid in treating inflammation and pains and how cold therapy machines work. This treatment is not recommended for some people, not just for those with sensitivity to cold, and the guide will tell you some caution tales about that.
Today, I have an interesting thing to talk about, and it’s something I think a lot of people don’t even know exists. I didn’t until I wound up having to use this technology, and as much as I had to be dragged kicking and screaming into using it, it certainly had a quality of life impact for me that I can’t deny.
What I want to talk about today is ice therapy. When you think of therapy, you tend to imagine maybe being in water for part of it (I’m not a swimmer, so that was something I refused uncompromisingly), medications, and the use of massage and heat. Well, heat can be used to relax muscles and dull pain, but some forms of muscle and joint pain cannot be combated with heat, as I’ll explain in just a moment.
Ice therapy makes you probably imagine soaking in a tub full of ice cubes or ice water, like an organ theft victim in an urban legend. Thankfully, no, while old approaches to this in the Victorian and Edwardian periods did indeed use this approach due to no other way to do so, modern ice therapy uses machines that deliver very chilled water through hoses and pads, with no direct skin contact. Some of that hypothermic cold is reduced, thus making it far less unpleasant than you’d initially assume.
So, let’s first talk about why ice therapy, extreme cold in general, is ever a good idea for fighting pain. The biggest doubt in the minds of most is how badly one’s arthritis or old injuries can act up when it becomes very cold, myself among them. That’s ambient cold, not targeted cold, which is a whole different ballgame.
Inflammation is a painful, excruciating thing, and is one of the prime mechanics behind things like arthritis, mobility problems, muscular issues and other ailments that plague both the young and old alike. Inflammation is partially brought about by excessive blood and tissue overstimulation, as well as retention of fluids and some other basic organic malfunctions.
There are a number of treatments for targeting inflammation, such as muscle creams, aspirin (and other blood thinners), antioxidants and potassium, as well as some use of organic sources of collagen, all intended to reduce the bunching up and swelling.
However, one of the most effective things to use against inflammation and dulling the associated pain, is applied cold. It reduces blood flow, it dulls nerves, and it causes fluids to evacuate from areas where they’ve bunched together. This is why the mix of heat and cold in muscle creams, albeit a chemically-artificial thermal nature, is as effective as it actually is.
Now, as I said a moment ago, the basic principle of this, albeit with less of the underlying biology understood, has been known for a long time. The original application was archaic and unpleasant with, yes, bathing in ice water or sitting in tubs of ice. This was not only a somewhat dangerous and unpleasant experience, but a costly one in a time before refrigerant technology could be mastered to manufacture ice or cold water on a whim.
Ice therapy machines are a modern implementation of this, and it’s not that new. The earliest uses of these date back to affordable electric motors, decent skin-safe rubber manufacturing, and that refrigerant technology I alluded to a moment ago. It’s not really possible to pin down exactly where and when this technology was actually first put into applied use, let alone on the market, but they’ve been around.
This is a good thing, it’s given people time to refine the approach over many decades of research and development. How do they work?
How Does An Ice Therapy Machine Work?
Some things can vary, and I’ll touch on those in a moment, but the basic principle is the same. A rubber pad is applied to a problem area, into which cold water is applied via a cycling pump, which in turn is either battery or wall socket-electrically powered. Some simply take ice water, some cool the water on demand. Some tap into the water taps, others have a reservoir/tank you fill ahead of time.
An electric pump and impeller moves the water through hoses, which are generally modular for extension or shortening. The cold is reduced somewhat, to prevent it from being painful or unpleasant to the skin, being a gradual but strong cooling effect.
Over about fifteen minutes to a half an hour of use, you can reduce inflammation, and be rid of pain for several hours, especially if you apply a moderately tight brace afterward, to discourage the return of the inflammation.
Does this technology work, or is it just another alternative medicine concept, though? Well, that depends on how you define it working, in all honesty. It’s not a cure for anything. Arthritis and other inflammatory issues for the moment, have no known cures, and ice therapy is no exception. What it can do is help with pain management, which along with proper medication, can greatly reduce the symptoms of inflammation and arthritis, and provide a good aid to quality of life in light of these ailments.
However, there are people who shouldn’t use this heavily, chief among them being severe heart patients already on a lot of blood thinners. This also applies to diabetics and people with severe circulatory issues, as extreme cold like this can actually be harmful.
People with sensitivity to cold in general should also avoid this, and it shouldn’t be used on injuries like fractures or sprains, as it will actually slow down healing (though a physician may cite an exception to this in your case should severe inflammation be a symptom of the sprain).
This is all to say, it’s not ideal for everyone, but for the purposes for which it’s actually designed, it does indeed work quite well, and can do quite a bit to relieve the misery and agony of arthritis and inflammation.
I have a couple stories related to this, one extolling the virtues of it, and one warning about how this may not be the right treatment for everyone. We’ll start with mine.
Let me preface this with two problems I have – I don’t like things being attached to me, or tightly wrapped around me. I wear loose clothing, I avoid jewelry, I just don’t like the feel of things “on” me. I also absolutely detest the cold. I’m from southern California originally, and I presently live in Florida. While excruciating heat and humidity is equally miserable, and I do find my central air to be a godsend for at least half the year here, any temperature below about 50 degrees, I consider to be just unbearable and horrid.
Thus, when I broke my leg in a nasty car wreck, and after the initial healing, I was told to use ice therapy as a way to fight the inflammation and aches, I wasn’t on board with the idea. Wrap a thing around me, and then let it apply frigid cold to a sensitive, hurting part of my body? Yeah no thank you.
And so, I spent a long time looking for other treatments. I actually went through a thankfully brief addiction to painkillers in my effort to fight the pain without what I was sure would just be another kind of pain.
Finally, I gave in, and tried ice therapy, expecting to hate it. Well okay, I didn’t love the experience itself, I don’t like cold or tight things on me. But it wasn’t the horrible, miserable, near-torture that I honestly thought it would be. The mild discomfort of cold and something wrapped around part of me was well worth the relief it brought, and this is why I will insist to anyone like me that hates the cold and tightness, to still try this if they suffer from inflammation, because trust me, no matter how much you hate the cold and tight stuff, it’s nothing compared to that inflammatory pain you suffer from. The effects last a while, though for myself, I notice my skin is a little numb and odd-feeling after using ice therapy, and the phantom sensation of the pad kind of sticks with you.
The other one is a warning, specifically for the previously-mentioned people on blood thinners. This is somewhat funny, simply because of the absurdity of it, but it’s also a miracle that it didn’t go so much worse than it did. My mother, rest her soul, became a wee bit plump in her later years, though far from what I’d call fat. This is important, because in the mid 90s, she became obsessed with every fad diet on the market, chief among them that ridiculous Atkins nonsense, wherein you can gorge yourself on bacon but god forbid you have a bite of fruit. What?
So, on top of being type II diabetic, which is the milder form, and thus being on a blood thinner, she also had a severely-compromised immune system due to a lack of vitamin C (a crucial enzyme for immune system efficiency). Well, she sprained her knee, and she was one of those rare exceptions where inflammation needed combated by ice therapy. She didn’t use a machine – they were costly back then, but just a rubber water pack with ice water in it.
The cold, mixed with her deficient diet and blood thinners, caused her to catch a cold, which she suffered from for nearly a year, giving the cold back to herself multiple times in a row. At the time, I laughed, because I’d told her that diet was bloody stupid, and “see, I told you so”. Now, though, I realize how a woman of her age could’ve been seriously hurt or even killed by this combination. Use this treatment wisely!
Best Ice Therapy Machines
Below, you will find a review of the best ice therapy machines at a price ranging from $170 to $220. Most of the models are powered either from batteries or a socket, while their capacity varies from 6 to 9 liters. They provide a different level of comfort, so while the high-end product comes with a handheld control, the less expensive ones have onboard ones.
1. Polar Products Active Ice 3.0 Knee & Joint Cold Therapy System
What you have here is something of a brute force, basic implementation of this that very much feels to me like something someone made in their garage. That sounds like I’m badmouthing this unit, but I’m not. It’s far from dainty, made of tried and true products that you just wouldn’t expect to be paired together usually.
These include pressure hose, binding and pads, and what looks very much like a typical camping/tailgating cooler with a pump in it. This kind of design means it’s rugged and will stand up to just about any environment, which I can’t say for some of the other alternatives on the market.
- Capacity: 8.5 liters.
- Power: Wall electricity.
- Controls: Handheld timer/remote.
This is a lot like the one I used, which was a rental from a medical supply place, and it was an industrial hospital machine. It’s easily portable, it’s simple to use, and it’s very durable, which is something to be admired.
I like how it doesn’t have to fit super tight, though it has some of the problems all of this technology does, of keeping you stationary, and having a lot of cords and hoses to go everywhere. It’s also a little on the loud side, despite claiming to be a quiet model. Pumps make noise, we’ll just have to deal with that.
What I really don’t like about this machine is the price. It’s made of things you find in your garage mostly, it shouldn’t cost the somewhat extravagant price it boasts, in all honesty.
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If you just want a simple model, and are okay with the heightened price, then this is probably a good choice.
Polar Products: Check the current price
2. Vive Cold Therapy Machine
This one is just as simple in design, but I think it’s a bit more elegant, and somehow the price is lower in spite of that. It has a transparent reservoir, onboard controls, and a decently portable design, as well as a nicer-fitting pad/bladder for your knee, elbow or other inflamed limb section.
If I had to use ice therapy on a regular basis, this would probably be the model I’d want, despite not liming tight, hugging braces like this, the one I used was clumsy by comparison.
The transparency is also more reliable for determining if the ice is depleting – I don’t trust thermometers and neither should you.
• Capacity: 6 liters (get used to inconsistent units with these).
• Power: Wall electricity or battery.
• Controls: Onboard.
I would’ve liked my user experience with this one a lot more than the one I used, frankly. The price is right, and it’s a practical, no-nonsense machine that has a bit more of a professional flair to it than the previous model, which … I honestly admire, despite not being as rugged.
It’s easy to use, the controls are simple and basic, and as this kind of thing goes, it’s pretty comfortable and convenient to work with. The compression it provides, while something I find unpleasant at the moment, is actually good for helping the cold water abate the inflammation and circulatory problems that come with problem joints.
A lot of these ice therapy machines are more similar to this one than the other two on the list, and that speaks for the practicality of this design.
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This is my favorite on the list, though it’s less rugged than the previous one.
Vive: Check the current price
3. Ossur Cold Rush Therapy System | Ice Therapy Machine for Knee
Here we have another more elegant solution, though the simplified controls and lack of transparency with it means you have to keep checking the reservoir – more on that in a moment. The hoses are modular, which is nice, and the pad is a lot more comfortable, and you can apply it to your knee with bandages, a brace, whatever you find most comfortable, and it needn’t be as tight, which I obviously like.
If you’ve experienced ice therapy in a clinic somewhere, a machine a lot like this one, at least after 2001, is probably what you experienced, so if you didn’t mind that, you won’t mind this one.
- Capacity: Not specified – between 6-9L likely.
- Power: Wall electricity or battery.
- Controls: Onboard.
Overall, I’d say this is definitely a solid design, and as I said, I like how you can connect it to your knee or elbow or whatnot as you see fit. This would allow me, for example, to just wrap a strip of bandaging around it, not tight and annoying.
If you have a brace you like, this can slide under it quite nicely, which goes a long way towards making this more suitable for different tastes and standards. To be honest, I have only two complaints – the price is a bit high, and you have to keep opening it up to check the reservoir, which is a problem, as it lets heat into the thing, as well as dust that’s not great for the pump and impeller mechanism.
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If you want the best build quality and don’t mind dumbed down controls, this is worth a look, but expect to pay a price.
Ossur: Check the current price
Expert Opinion: Ernesto Leal Junior, Professor, Ph.D., Nove de Julho University
Ernesto Leal Junior, Professor, Ph.D., Nove de Julho University
Ernesto Leal Junior, Professor, Ph.D., Head of the Laboratory of Phototherapy in Sports and Exercise at Nove de Julho University in Brazil. He is also the research leader of Multi Radiance Medical. Ernesto has a Bachelor’s degree in Physiotherapy and a Master's degree from the University of Vale do Paraiba, Brazil. In 2010, he defended his Ph.D. thesis at the University of Bergen, Norway.
“Photobiomodulation therapy or cryotherapy for exercise restitution: what is better? It is widely known that several different modalities are used, aiming to accelerate restitution after exercise. However, there is limited scientific evidence behind the use of that modalities. Specifically about cryotherapy. Despite being one of the most used modalities, the scientific evidence of the use of this modality is extremely limited. On the other hand, photobiomodulation is a novel therapy that has demonstrated high efficacy in accelerating exercise restitution. With this aim in mind, we performed a randomized clinical trial. Fifty male volunteers were recruited and they were treated immediately after extensive exercise with photobiomodulation or with cryotherapy used as isolated or combined therapies. We did assessments related to strength, delayed onset muscle soreness and damage. Our outcomes demonstrated that photobiomodulation was able to enhance the strength of these volunteers and decrease pain after an extensive exercise session. When cryotherapy was applied before photobiomodulation, the results were very similar to those of the placebo treatment group. In the same way, cryotherapy used alone as a single treatment was not better than placebo treatment”.