All over the world, athletes test the limits of their bodies through all kinds of strenuous activities, such as workouts, marathons, and sports. These activities leave them open to the risk of injury, strains, and sprains. 

Over the years, numerous methods have been used to help treat these injuries and get back to the game. One of the most common is to take medication designed to reduce pain. Although this can provide some relief, often the pain medication does not specifically target the injured or sprained area, instead providing general pain coverage. 

To pinpoint problem areas specifically, athletes may utilize cold compression therapy. By using cold compression machines and wraps, they can target specific injured or stressed areas directly, speeding up the time it takes to recover and get back to the game. In addition, portable systems can be more efficient than having to sit in an ice bath or use ice packs and frozen vegetables that won’t last long at room temperature. Let’s learn more about how cold compression therapy can help athletes find relief from pain.

5 Ways Cold Compression Helps with Pain Management for Athletes

Athletes and their athletic trainers know the importance of using the latest methods to quickly recover from pain and injury. Cold compression therapy can help hasten the recovery process by efficiently targeting specific injured body parts. Here are some ways that cold therapy helps athletes manage their pain: 

1. Reduces Swelling and Inflammation

When injury or stress occur in parts of the body, it can cause swelling and inflammation due to liquid buildup in the problem area. This is the body’s defense against infection. Applying concentrated cold to inflamed areas helps move excess fluids away from them, reducing swelling and stimulating circulation.1 

2. Pumps Fresh Blood Throughout the Body

Damaged tissue requires oxygenated blood to heal quickly. Using cold compression encourages blood to flow to problem areas and brings much-needed oxygen to damaged tissue. This also helps remove excess lymphatic fluid, cellular waste, and tissue waste away from the injured area, paving the way for tissue to heal faster.2   

3. Numbs Pain and Reduces Soreness

Applying cold to an area of the body helps to reduce circulation, providing an analgesic effect. When circulation is reduced, blood vessels begin to shrink, which lessens bleeding and swelling. Applying cold can also reduce the amount and duration of soreness, decreasing the need to use pain medication to achieve the same effect. 2   

4. Slows Cellular Metabolism 

As stated before, cold compression slows down circulation, which is a good thing when muscles and tissues need to heal. In the process of cellular metabolism, enzymes and proteins within cells and tissues are constantly being built, degraded, and rebuilt. By using cold compression therapy to slow down this process, fresh enzymes and oxygenated blood have more time to work within the damaged tissue, giving it a better chance to heal properly before the cycle continues.3   

5. Provides Convenient, Consistent Cold

Typically, one of the go-tos for cold therapy is to grab an ice pack or a bag of frozen vegetables. Although a bag of vegetables can provide relief, it can be tricky to apply because the bag will shift around and eventually warm to room temperature. Ice packs, though better, only stay cold for about 3-4 hours before needing to be frozen again. With cold compression therapy, however, you can control exactly where the cold is applied without worrying about temperature changes or the pad shifting to a non-injured area of your body.

Speak with your doctor if you are interested in cold and compression therapy for your recovery. 


  1. Wilke B, Weiner RD. Postoperative cryotherapy: risks versus benefits of continuous-flow cryotherapy units. Clin Podiatr Med Surg. 2003 Apr; 20(2): 307-22. Accessed April 16, 2021.
  2. Quinlan P, Davis J, Fields K, et al. Effects of localized cold therapy on pain in postoperative spinal fusion patients. Orthopaedic Nursing. 2017; 36(5): 344-349. Accessed April 20, 2021.
  3. Block J. Cold and compression in the management of musculoskeletal injuries and orthopedic operative procedures: a narrative review. Open Access J Sports Med. 2010: 105-113. Accessed April 7, 2021.