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How long should I use cold therapy after surgery?

How Long to Use Cold Therapy After Surgery
3 minutes, 22 seconds

Cold therapy is often used after an injury or surgery because of its many benefits, which include decreasing inflammation and pain. It’s especially used in the days immediately after surgery to help control swelling while the incision and operated tissue heals. 

However, cold therapy can be detrimental if you use it for too long or leave it on your skin for long periods of time. It is important to know how long you should use cold therapy to maximize its results and avoid aggravating the site of your surgery. 

If you feel you are relying on cold therapy too much or want to boost your cold therapy treatment with a more active approach, treatments like physical therapy can help control your post-surgery inflammation while building your strength and mobility. 

How long should you use cold therapy after surgery?

Depending on the type of surgery you had, your doctor may recommend ice or cold therapy as an effective post-surgery treatment. Cold therapy can:

  • Reduce the sensation of pain and tenderness. 
  • Reduce inflammation and swelling.
  • Decrease symptoms like muscle spasms and cramping.

To maximize the benefit of your ice treatments, you should ice the area of your surgery several times a day, 15 to 20 minutes at a time. You should also ice after undergoing uncomfortable movement, like in physical therapy at times. 

However, it is important that you pay attention to the length of time your doctor recommends that you use ice on the area of your injury. If you keep ice on your injury for longer than recommended, you may be prolonging your healing process; ice constricts your blood flow and limits the nutrients that reach your injury and boost healing. After a certain amount of time — once your surgery site is no longer tender to the touch — you may need to switch to heat to improve your immune response. 

You must also be careful with the time you keep ice on your surgical area during one session. You should never place ice directly on your skin; always wrap the ice with a towel, shirt, or blanket so that you do not experience excessive redness or ice burn on the surface of the skin. If your skin becomes overly red after placing ice on it, this is your body telling you how long you should use cold therapy; you should remove the ice and shorten your cold therapy sessions. 

How can physical therapy help you know how long to use cold therapy?

The benefits of an icing routine can be maximized by gentle exercise and stretches. Physical therapists are well versed in rehabilitation programs that promote natural and safe healing post-surgery. During your one-on-one sessions, your physical therapist can: 

  • Answer your questions — You will likely see your physical therapist frequently after surgery, giving you ample opportunities to ask questions. If you ever have questions about your cold therapy routine in particular — such as how much longer you should use cold therapy after surgery — your physical therapist can help guide you in the frequency and duration of your use of ice.
  • Curate a treatment plan according to your symptoms — During sessions, your physical therapist can assess your symptoms after surgery and design a treatment plan that targets your concerns. They can also work with your doctor to tailor an exercise and stretch plan that is safe according to your surgery type and your medical history.
  • Recommend other at-home treatments — Your physical therapist can also help you optimize your rest and elevation routine as well as your use of cold therapy. Sometimes, trading cold and hot therapies can be beneficial to your body’s natural healing process. This is because heat promotes blood circulation to your injury. 

Alliance PTP is ready to help you find top-notch PT for post-surgery rehab

Do you have questions about cold therapy and how long it can take to benefit your post-surgery healing? At Alliance Physical Therapy Partners, we’re proudly bringing together physical therapy practices across the country to help people get the high-quality PT they need. 

Want to see a physical therapist in person? We can put you in touch with an Alliance PTP partner that’s close to you and that can help you implement the benefits of cold therapy after your surgery.

Not keen on in-person PT sessions or not close to an Alliance PTP partner? No worries. We also offer effective and affordable virtual physical therapy through our Agile Virtual Physical Therapy platform. 

Come find help for your injury or chronic condition today!

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