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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Intensive Cryotherapy in the Emergency Department (ICED): A Randomized Controlled Trial

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Introduction: Pain control is an essential component of musculoskeletal injury treatment in the emergency department (ED). We evaluated the most effective type of cryotherapy for analgesia of acute musculoskeletal injury and the impact on opioid utilization.

Methods: This was a prospective, randomized, single-blind controlled trial of adult ED patients who presented with acute musculoskeletal pain. Patients were randomized to either intensive targeted cryotherapy (crushed wetted ice in a plastic bag) or agitated chemical cold pack applied to the injury site for 20 minutes. All other diagnostic and therapeutic orders were at the discretion of the treating physician. Visual analog pain scores were measured at the time of cryotherapy application, at 20 minutes (time of cryotherapy removal), and at 60 minutes (40 minutes after removal).

Results: We enrolled 38 patients, 17 randomized to intensive targeted cryotherapy and 21 to chemical cold packs, with well-matched demographics. The intensive targeted cryotherapy group achieved significantly greater pain relief at 20 minutes (2.1 [95% confidence interval (CI), 1.3 – 2.9] vs 0.9 [95% CI, 0.3 – 1.5], P < 0.05) and at 60 minutes (2.7 [95% CI, 1.6 – 3.7] vs 1.2 [95% CI, 0.6 – 1.7], P < 0.05), number need to trial (NNT) = 3.2. Opioid administration in the ED was significantly lower in the intensive targeted cryotherapy group (1 [6%] vs 7 [33%], P < 0.05), NNT = 3.6. Those who received a discharge opiate prescription had significantly higher 60-minute pain scores (7.3 ± 2.2 vs 4.1 ± 2.7, P < 0.05).

Conclusion: Intensive targeted cryotherapy provided more effective analgesia than chemical cold packs for acute musculoskeletal injuries in the ED and may contribute to lower opioid usage.

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