Biofreeze or Ice?

bioiceAnyone who has ever suffered a bump, bruise, sprain, strain or other injury likely knows that ice works well to relieve pain. Modern day cryotherapy (cold therapy) offers more options than the traditional ice bag. So when is it appropriate to seek pain relief from natural cold therapy compounds like Biofreeze and when is a good old bag of ice called for?

The purpose of cold therapy is primarily to reduce swelling, to lower skin temperature, and to desensitize and temporarily deaden pain receptors around the muscles and skin involved in an injury.

What is Biofreeze?

Biofreeze is an herbal, topical solution that can be applied directly to an injury. Biofreeze uses natural herbs such as Ilex, menthol, camphor and aloe to create a cooling sensation, mimicking ice and causing the same effect as ice application. One of the clear advantages of Biofreeze over ice is that it can be rubbed directly onto an injured muscle without the need for bags, Ace bandages or a therapist to hold an ice bag in place. Additionally, Biofreeze has been shown to be more effective in vasoconstriction and pain relief than ice. Biofreeze is available at many massage therapy clinics, chiropractic offices and medical facilities.

When to use Biofreeze

Biofreeze products provide relief for arthritis sufferers and the pain reliever’s unique, cooling formulation is also comforting to sore muscles and muscle sprains; easing back, shoulder and neck pain; reducing painful ankle, knee, hip and elbow joints and helping to lessen effects of muscular strains. One of the benefits of Biofreeze is that it can be applied locally, just to the areas of discomfort.


Many professional massage therapists, physicians and chiropractors use cryotherapy compounds like Biofreeze as part of their common protocol for managing pain from injury.  Typically, Biofreeze cream (or roll-on) is applied gently across the painful area, and then the compound dries and cools.  Once the Biofreeze is cooled, massage can begin.
The only contraindications of Biofreeze are to keep it away from eyes, ears, nose and mouth, and use it only on the affected areas.


Turning to the ice bag


Ice is a very popular treatment option.  It’s usually more readily available than a cryotherapy product.  Ice baths provide quick relief, but they often treat an entire limb, for example, when only an elbow or limb needs the treatment. Because it’s difficult to control the temperature and location of the application of the ice, it can have some negative effects. The negative effect can include stiffness, decreased range of motion, decreased motor performance, and skin irritation. It’s also a hassle to balance an ice bag (or a bag of frozen peas!) on the injured area. In extreme cases, cold burns or frostbite can also occur.


So, which is better?

In a study conducted by Robert Topp, PhD, RN, from the University of Louisville, researchers compared the effects of a topical analgesic (Biofreeze) and ice on blood flow, pain, and muscle performance of the upper extremities in healthy individuals. His study found a decrease in blood flow in the radial artery five minutes after applying Biofreeze to the forearm. The application of ice didn’t significantly reduce blood flow until 20 minutes after application. At 20 minutes following the application of these treatments, the study showed that Biofreeze provided significantly greater muscle function compared to the application of ice. While Biofreeze reduced blood flow much more quickly than ice, the reduction lasted longer with the ice.

The study seems to suggest that immediate treatment with Biofreeze helps more quickly and that ice is helpful solution over a longer period.  The decision may be an alternating treatment over time using either ice or Biofreeze, but not used at the same time. Biofreeze is more portable and offer the opportunity to continue with activity without balancing the bag. Biofreeze is strong, so it can only be applied up to four times a day. Ice is cheaper, though, and can be applied as needed.

Got more questions?  Ask your massage therapist or a medical professional which pain relief system might work best for you.