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Written by Marly Coppens
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Tissue temperature response to hot and cold therapy

This study determined tissue response to hot and cold physical therapy methods in the metacarpal region in horses. In humans, optimal tissue temperatures for cold therapy are between 15 and 19°C and between 40 and 45°C for heat therapy. The table below displays indications, methods and physiologic response of thermal therapy.

One horse got three thermistor probes implanted; one subcutaneously, the second between the superficial- and deep digital flexor tendon and a third on skin surface. The methods evaluated were:

  • Ice water immersion (ice mixed with water in a therapy boot)
  • Hot water from a hose (temperature between 42 - 45°C)
  • Commercial hot pack
  • Commercial cold pack

Commercial hot and cold packs were convenient but showed smaller changes in tissue temperatures than ice water immersion or the warm water hose. Ice water immersion made the greatest and quickest change in tissue temperature.

Key points:

  1. For effective thermal therapy, temperature is maintained for 10 to 20 min.
  2. Warm water therapy should be continued for 20 to 30 min, because it takes more time for the tissue to adapt to it.
  3. Temperature from the hot water hose should be regulated between 40 and 45°C.  Otherwise the skin can burn.
  4. Generally, the modalities being used are beneficial in effecting tissues that are less than 1.5 to 2 cm deep. 

> From: Kaneps, AAEP 46 (2017) 208 - 2013. All rights reserved to AAEP. Click here for the online summary.

 Andris J. Kaneps
Image by: Andris J. Kaneps

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