Cold therapy devices are routinely prescribed to patients recovering from injuries as a means to promote healing by limiting the swelling in the injured area. Many patients are never informed of the damage that can be done to the body by severe cold temperatures, however, and defective cold therapy devices may cause severe cold burns that worsen injuries or cause new ones. It is the duty of a practitioner to inform patients of any risks and side effects that accompany any treatment and to make sure that each patient is educated on the proper application of that treatment. Additionally, it is the duty of device manufacturers to design their products more responsibly to reduce injuries and their severity.
Injuries Caused by Extreme Cold
Just like heat, cold therapy can be harmful if temperatures reach extremes and low temperatures are capable of causing tissue and nerve damage that can result in temporary or permanent impairment and the loss of feeling in the affected limbs and digits. Injuries most commonly caused by cold therapy devices include the following.
- Frostbite. which is the clinical term for a cold burn that occurs when extreme temperatures draw heat away from the body to the extent that tissue and nerves begin to die.
- Nerve damage. Cold temperatures slow blood flow and dull the sense of touch. Extreme temperatures will cause the temporary loss of feeling at first, but should nerves die due to lack of blood flow, they will not grow back.
- Partial paralysis. Severe nerve damage can result in the inability or difficulty to move the affected area naturally.
- Scarring caused by cold burns. Like heat, cold can destroy tissue and severe frostbite can leave scars behind after the body warms up. When these scars appear in areas of cosmetic significance, it can cause severe emotional damage to the victim through embarrassment and shame.
- Blood clots. When the flow of blood is reduced, there is an increased likelihood of a blood clot forming which may travel to another area of the body through the circulatory system after the body warms up. Blood clots can be the cause of strokes, pulmonary embolisms and other severe injuries.
Causes of Cold Therapy Injuries
Many of the devices currently being produced for the purpose of providing cold therapy are very dangerous when used improperly or for extended periods of time. The most common causes of injuries when using these devices include the following.
- Failure to notify patients of risks. A prescribing doctor may fail to inform the patient on how to use the device or not be clear on how long the device should be used. Additionally, the manufacturer may not include warnings or instructions that properly warn the patient prior to use.
- Poor device design. Many of the cold therapy devices that are in use do not possess automatic shut off features and governors that would prevent the device from getting too cold. The inclusion of these features would make the devices much safer than they are currently.
- Device malfunction. On occasion, the cold therapy device may cause harm if malfunctions cause the device to cool too quickly or create temperatures that are too extreme.
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