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Cold Therapy and Frostbite


Individuals who treat their injuries with a cold therapy machine may be too numb to recognize the first symptoms of frostbite. Although frostbite can typically be avoided by checking the skin frequently and re-warming the skin every 20-30 minutes, many people do not take precautions because they are not aware of the risk.

Cold Therapy and Frostbite

Frostbite is the most common injury associated with cold therapy machines, and it occurs when patients deliver “continuous cold therapy” for many hours, days, or weeks.

Our lawyers are concerned that many patients who use cold therapy machines are not being adequately warned about precautions they must take to avoid frostbite. The clinical benefits of any cold therapy machine end at 15ºC (59ºF). Exposing an injured body part to colder temperatures increases the risk of frostbite, skin damage, and nerve damage.

Furthermore, experts recommend that a cold therapy machine should be used for 40 minutes maximum, and normally only 20-30 minutes at a time, and only while awake. They also recommend checking the skin frequently and allowing the skin to re-warm while deeper tissues stay cold.

What is Frostbite?

Frostbite is an injury that occurs when ice crystals form out of the water inside and around cells. These ice crystals can cause severe damage to cells and circulation. The extent of the injury often is not obvious at first. However, after thawing, tissues may become extremely swollen, discolored, blistered, inflamed, and even blackened (a symptom of skin necrosis).

Treatment for frostbite may involve slowly and carefully re-warming the tissue in a hospital. If frostbite has caused necrosis of skin or tissues, the patient may require surgery to remove the dead skin and graft healthy skin onto the injury. In the most severe cases, patients may require amputation of their frostbitten limb.

Case Report of Frostbite from Cold Therapy

Cold therapy machines have caused extremely severe cases of frostbite on multiple occasions. One description of this injury was published in 2007 in Orthopedics. Surgeons treated a 53 year-old man with devastating frostbite on both of his knees after using a Breg Polar Care 500 cold therapy machine for several weeks: Severe Frostbite of the Knees After Cryotherapy (GRAPHIC)

Symptoms of Frostbite from Cold Therapy

Symptoms of frostbite can include:

  • Numbness
  • While cold, skin become red and tingly, then turns white, waxy, and hard
  • Patient may feel deceptively warm and comfortable
  • When thawed, skin becomes painful, discolored, and swollen
  • Skin turns dark red, purple, or black
  • Skin necrosis or tissue death
  • Loss of fine motor control
  • And more


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