Injury type: Acute

Category: Lifestyle options

Rating: No research

What is it?

Cold therapy involves the application of a cold pack or ice to the body. It can also take the form of an ice bath. Cold therapy is usually best applied for 10 minutes, several times a day, especially in the initial 48-72 hours after a whiplash injury.

How does it work?

Cold therapy is thought to reduce blood flow to the area via constricting the blood vessels in response to the cold sensation. This may help to reduce the amount of fluid being released from the blood into the surrounding tissues following an injury, thereby reducing the amount of tissue swelling. By reducing swelling, cold therapy may also assist in pain reduction. The cold sensation within the tissues may also distract the brain from pain sensations that might be coming from the same region (the so-called pain gate theory), thereby providing further pain relief.

Is it effective?

There is no clear evidence on the use of cold therapy in the management of whiplash.

Are there any disadvantages?

Some people may find cold therapy uncomfortable and are not able to apply it for the recommended time. Care needs to be taken to ensure that the ice pack is wrapped in a cloth to avoid direct contact with the skin.

Where do you get it?

Ice packs range from several blocks of ice wrapped in a cloth to a frozen bag of peas, to commercially produced gel packs. Ice/gel packs are generally available at pharmacies/chemists and medical suppliers.


Although there is no direct evidence relating to the effectiveness of cold therapy, recent guidelines suggest that it may be used in conjunction with other manual and physical forms of therapy (i.e. multimodal care) in the first three weeks after whiplash injury.