patients from either group stayed in the hospital, and one hour after their procedures, pain levels were not different in the two patient groups.
But after the first hour and at all points during days one through three, patients in the cryotherapy group had lower pain scores than in the comparison group. On the first morning after surgery, for example, patients using ice packs rated their pain at 3 while those in the comparison group rated theirs at a 5.
The researchers also saw a significant difference in pain on the evening of day three when the ice-treatment patients had an average pain score of less than 2 and the non-ice patients had scores that averaged almost 4.
The researchers standardized the pain medications used by patients into units of morphine equivalents and found that on days one and three, patients in the cryotherapy group used less medication.
On day one after surgery, patients with ice packs used about 14 morphine equivalents’ worth of pain medication, compared to 17 in the group without ice. Use of the narcotics shot up on the second day in the cryotherapy group, but then fell again on day three, when they used about 11 morphine equivalents compared to 15 in the non-ice group.
Because ice works locally and only for a short time, it was not surprising that the effect on narcotic use only lasted while patients used 24-hour ice packs, the authors write.
Some patients did continue using ice packs after the first day and said that it helped their pain. Eighty-one percent of the cryotherapy group said the ice brought them some relief, and 76 percent said they would use ice packs if they had another surgery.
Master noted that safety was a very important part of the experiment. “There was no wound breakdown caused by the ice and we conducted the treatment on a variety of surgical patients,” he said.
At $2 per ice pack, the treatment is cost-effective, the researchers point out in their report. They also say that cryotherapy should be complementary to other pain management strategies because it is easy, affordable, well-received by patients and has minimal to no toxicity.
“Patients may have been getting ice packs from the time they were kids. Sprained ankle - mom gives you ice pack,” Master said.
Now, he added, patients could reasonably ask their doctor to provide them with ice packs as well.