Using cold therapy machines for too long at too cold of a temperature can cause nerve damage. Unfortunately, our lawyers are concerned because doctors do not always warn their patients about the risk of nerve damage. This serious injury can cause permanent numbness, pain, cold sensitivity, loss of fine motor coordination, and other side effects.

Does Cold Therapy Cause Nerve Damage?

Many patients do not realize that cold therapy machines can cause nerve damage. The largest machines are capable of delivering 6-11 hours of ice-cold temperatures, and manufacturers claim that “continuous cold therapy” will help improve healing and recovery. Our lawyers are concerned that some doctors prescribe cold therapy machines without discussing the risk of nerve damage with their patients.

Nerve damage can occur as a complication of frostbite or severe skin damage (skin necrosis). It typically occurs when patients are too numb to realize that they are causing further injury. Pain from a pre-existing injury may also make it difficult to tell when nerve damage is occurring. Once nerves are damaged, the patient may actually feel pleasantly warm and comfortable — not pain, as you might exact.

To reduce the risk of nerve damage, experts recommend using skin protection (such as a towel), allowing the skin to re-warm every 20-30 minutes, and using a cold therapy machine at above temperatures of 15ºC (59ºF). Furthermore, patients should always talk to their doctor about the proper temperature and duration of treatment.

Symptoms of Nerve Damage

Patients who use a cold therapy machine should talk to their doctor about symptoms of nerve damage. Nerve injuries can usually be avoided if patients are instructed to check their skin frequently for symptoms of injury and only use the machine at a safe temperature.

Minor cold injuries (frostnip) can cause temporary nerve sensitivity, and the patient’s skin may feel painful when it is re-warmed. More serious cold injuries (frostbite) can cause permanent nerve damage, numbness, and chronic pain.

Symptoms of nerve damage can include:

  • Skin discoloration, redness, or warmth
  • Waxy or hard skin
  • Loss of sensation (numbness)
  • Abnormal sensation (prickling, tingling, burning, etc.)
  • Pain
  • Cold sensitivity
  • Warmth
  • Loss of fine motor coordination.
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