Dressage Today - - Content - By Christina “Cricket” Rus­sillo, DVM Christina “Cricket” Rus­sillo, DVM, grad­u­ated from the Tufts Univer­sity School of Ve­teri­nary Medicine in 2001. Fol­low­ing grad­u­a­tion, she com­pleted a large an­i­mal medicine and surgery in­tern­ship at Texas A&M and re­aliz

The Ben­e­fits of Cold Ther­apy

Ilike to think of ice, and thus cold ther­apy, as na­ture’s anti-in­flam­ma­tory. There are many modal­i­ties these days for pro­vid­ing cold ther­apy (cryother­apy) to equine dis­tal limbs with op­tions as low-tech as a feed pan with wa­ter and ice cubes or as high-tech as ma­chines that in­clude com­pres­sion and mas­sage ac­tion in ad­di­tion to con­trolled sus­tained cold ther­apy.

There is in­creas­ing ev­i­dence of the value of cryother­apy for re­cov­ery and re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion of in­jury in hu­man ath­letes. Whole-body cryother­apy is not cur­rently an op­tion and not likely to be ap­proach­able for equine ath­letes. But the idea of pro­vid­ing post-ex­er­tional cold ther­apy has been val­i­dated and this will likely con­tinue to push avail­able tech­nol­ogy to­ward ad­vanced meth­ods of re­gional cool­ing. I gen­er­ally rec­om­mend cold-hos­ing and cold ther­apy fol­low­ing ex­er­cise rather than prior to ex­er­cise. Cold-hos­ing has the ad­di­tional ben­e­fit of po­ten­tially pro­vid­ing some mas­sage ac­tion, which can in­crease lym­phatic cir­cu­la­tion and has di­rect ben­e­fit in cases of dis­tal limb edema such as cel­luli­tis or lym­phan­gi­tis.

The big­gest down­side to hos­ing the horse is the po­ten­tial to in­crease the risk for lo­cal­ized der­mati­tis sec­ondary to the in­creased mois­ture that can be trapped in the hair coat or un­der ban­dages ap­plied to a wet limb. This risk ex­ists even with sim­ple bathing and es­pe­cially when in warmer, more hu­mid cli­mates.

My typ­i­cal rec­om­men­da­tion is to dry the leg well and al­low suf­fi­cient time for the legs to dry be­fore putting the horse back in a stall and on bed­ding. Some­times a fan is help­ful, as is baby pow­der un­der ban­dages. When us­ing ice boots, it’s im­por­tant to pay at­ten­tion to the gen­eral hy­giene of the boots them­selves. Since the boots are of­ten constantly get­ting wet and be­ing reap­plied across mul­ti­ple horses’ legs, you can in­ad­ver­tently spread bac­te­ria.

When faced with an acute in­jury and lame­ness, I rec­om­mend cold-hos­ing or cold ther­apy as much as pos­si­ble dur­ing the acute phase. This usu­ally means us­ing ice boots or cold-hos­ing for 15 to 20 min­utes, three to four times dur­ing the day for five to seven days. I have had re­ally good suc­cess us­ing a com­bi­na­tion of ice, wa­ter and Ep­som salts and will some­times also in­clude a lin­i­ment. This com­bi­na­tion re­ally keeps the tem­per­a­ture cold and helps it last a bit longer.

When a horse is start­ing back into work af­ter an in­jury and time off and there is no longer an acute in­jury to worry about, I will cur­tail the cold ther­apy to af­ter ex­er­cise only. I recognize that a pair of ice boots doesn’t get nearly as cold as some of the cur­rently avail­able cold-ther­apy de­vices, but they are rel­a­tively low bud­get and easy to use and one can leave them on a horse while do­ing other barn chores, and that gen­er­ally means that clients are com­pli­ant with the rec­om­men­da­tion. A ma­chine may be more ben­e­fi­cial, but only if it ac­tu­ally makes it on the horse. Some­times lowtech is bet­ter than noth­ing at all.

There are many modal­i­ties for pro­vid­ing cold ther­apy that range from low-tech to high-tech.

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