The 5 Best Cold Therapy Machines in 2022
Cold therapy machines are a powerful tool for recovery and pain management.
Whether you’re treating an injury, recovering from a recent surgical procedure, or dealing with recurring aches and pains, cold therapy is one of the most commonly used methods to improve recovery and provide drug-free pain relief.
But, unlike traditional cold packs and bags filled with ice, cold therapy machines give you enhanced treatment sessions by cycling water through an ice reservoir to provide you with a consistent temperature, longer sessions, and less mess from condensation to clean up later.
This article covers everything you need to know about how cold therapy works, its benefits, and our top picks for the best cold therapy machines so you can find the perfect unit for you.
- What Are Cold Therapy Machines
- What to Look For When Buying a Cold Therapy Machine:
- Best Universal Cold Therapy Machines
- Best Gravity-Fed Cold Therapy Machine
- Specialized Units:
Mobility Athlete is reader-supported. So if you add some new fitness or recovery equipment to your gym bag using one of our links, we can receive a small commission (at no additional cost to you!) It helps us keep the lights on here at the site. Thanks for your support!
What Are Cold Therapy Machines
Continuous cold therapy devices (also referred to as ice therapy machines) circulate ice water through a compression pad or sleeve to provide localized cold therapy treatment to specific parts of the body.
Cold therapy is one of the most common treatment methods in orthopedic medicine. It is typically used to reduce inflammation and improve healing after an injury or surgical procedure, as well as manage acute pain.
Treating an injury with cold water or ice helps lower the temperature of the injured tissue. This lower temperature reduces the metabolic rate in the treatment area and decreases blood flow through vasoconstriction to reduce cell death after injury.
When your tissue temperature drops and vasoconstriction occurs, your body responds by naturally cycling vasodilation to increase blood flow and temperature through a process called the Lewis Hunting Reaction. This cycle then repeats itself throughout the course of the cold therapy treatment.
Unlike an ice pack which can either cause damage from direct skin contact with the ice or quickly melt and lose temperature, cold therapy machines circulate cold water to ensure an even constant temperature and maintain the cold temperature longer by filtering it through ice in an insulated container.
Like any recovery method, you should always consult with your doctor or preferred healthcare provider to ensure it’s the right treatment for you first.
Benefits of Ice Therapy Machines
- Reducing inflammation
- Optimizing tissue survival after injury
- Diminishing pain reception by decreasing conductivity of pain receptors and nerves
- Improving normal function after soft tissue trauma at a much faster rate
What to Look For When Buying a Cold Therapy Machine:
Coverage and Pad Selection
The most important part of selecting a cold therapy machine is ensuring the device will cover the part of the body you need to treat.
While many of the units on this list come equipped with universal pads, many times, there are attachments and packages available that offer pads specifically designed to cover certain body parts.
A universal pad may work well for general use if you plan on treatment for various body parts. But if you will use the device for recovery of a specific joint or muscle group, getting a pad with your unit built for the job can provide you with better results.
A unit with a broader pad selection also gives you a better return on your initial investment. The most expensive piece of a cold therapy machine is the unit itself. Having the option to purchase additional pads compatible with your device for different body parts in the future means you won’t have to spend the extra money on an entirely new machine.
Capacity and Ice-To-Water Ratio
The cold therapy machines’ capacity is what determines how long it can keep the water at a cold temperature for treatment. The ice-to-water ratio is what determines the temperature range the water can be delivered at.
While a larger capacity may mean more water and more ice to keep the water colder for longer, it isn’t always the best option for everyone. More capacity also means a larger size and heavier weight.
If you need your machine to be portable, it may be best to find a smaller unit with a higher ice-to-water ratio to give you both the treatment time you’ll need while keeping the device light and compact to maximize portability.
Motorized vs. Gravity-Fed
There are two different types of cold therapy machines, motorized and gravity-fed.
Motorized cold therapy machines use a small motor to ensure a consistent flow and return rate of the water to the ice basin.
Gravity-fed cold therapy machines are non-motorized versions that use gravity to circulate the water to the compression pad.
Motorized machines have the advantage of supplying consistent cold water temperature to the treatment area. However, gravity-fed units are a substantially cheaper option and offer a zero noise solution as a tradeoff for some performance loss.
Another important feature to consider is the length of the tubes connecting to the device. The tube length is what will determine where you will be able to comfortable use the device.
A great tip for figuring out the length of the tubes you will need is to go over to a few of the places you plan on using the machine (especially the couch or recliner) and measure the distance from where you will place the device to where your limb receiving treatment will be positioned.
It’s an all-too-common situation for new buyers to have their cold therapy machine arrive, only to realize they have to stack the unit precariously on boxes or a stool so it will reach the treatment area while they relax in their favorite spot in the house.
A little bit of planning and measurement beforehand will go a long way to ensure a comfortable and straightforward treatment once your cold therapy machine arrives.
Best Universal Cold Therapy Machines
Ossur Cold Rush Therapy Machine
The Ossur Cold Rush is our top choice for cold therapy machines in 2022.
Not only does it have a sleek ergonomic design and a form factor optimized for portability. But the Ossur’s extensive pad selection makes it an excellent choice for a robust base model capable of providing rehabilitation for anything you may need it for in the future.
Ossur Cold Rush Pad Selection:
- Universal Pad
- Ankle Pad
- Knee Pad
- Large Shoulder Pad
- Small Shoulder Pad
- Left Hip Pad
- Right Hip Pad
- Lumbar Pad
- Rectangular All-Use Pad
The Ossur Cold Rush uses the same quiet and durable brushless motors used in refrigerators and air conditioners to give you consistent cooling while maintaining a subtle 30db noise profile. (30db being the same decibel level as a whisper or rustling leaves.)
It also has an excellent ice-to-water ratio and a design that transfers less heat from the motor to the temperature of the water. This allows the Ossur to ensure cold therapy treatment for up to 6 hours without sacrificing the size and portability of the base unit.
Lastly, the Ossur Cold Rush has a well-thought-out, slick modern design that sets it apart from the traditional “lunch cooler” design you’ll commonly find when looking for cold therapy machines. While looks don’t always equate to quality (and there are a few excellent choices on this list featuring that traditional design), it’s a great unit to take with you on the go and packs well for travel.
Polar Active Ice 3.0
The Polar Active Ice 3.0 is a time-tested ice therapy machine with thousands of five-star reviews from happy customers.
Polar is a pioneer in cold therapy. They’ve been manufacturing cooling garments for over 15 years, delivering solutions across industries and across the globe. And the Polar Active ice therapy machine has played a part in building their reputation for reliable products.
The key strength for the Polar Active Ice’s reliability and durability is its simplicity in design. It has an open 9-quart reservoir (which can fit up to six frozen water bottles as an easy and reusable alternative to ice cubes) and also has an option for a 16-quart reservoir to maximize treatment time.
The Polar Active Ice 3.0 also has an excellent selection of compatible treatment pads:
- Universal Pad
- Back and Hip Pad
- Foot and Ankle Pad
- Full Coverage Knee Pad
- Standard Knee and Joint Pad
- Dual Knee Pad With Split Adapter
- Hand and Wrist Pad
- Large Foot Pad
- Standard Shoulder Pad
- Small Shoulder Pad
- Rectangular All-Use Pad
The Polar’s straightforward control system gives you a custom programmable timer to set your cooling cycles to your preference and doctor’s recommendation. If you’re planning on using your device through the night, you don’t have to worry about falling asleep while it’s running because of its automatic shut down.
The brushless 12 volt 1.5 amp brushless motor gives you quiet operation with powerful circulation to keep the cold water pumping through to the pad for the duration of your treatment.
If you’re looking for a reliable and time-tested unit that you know will “just work” whenever you need it. The Polar Active Ice 3.0 is an excellent choice for a cold therapy machine designed to last for years.
Vive Cold Therapy Machine
The Vive Cold Therapy Machine is a quiet, compact, portable ice therapy unit with a unique transparent design with marked guides for easy and accurate filling.
If you don’t need a robust selection of attachments and pads and are looking for a one-pad-fits-all approach to your cold therapy, the Vive’s large and versatile therapy pad is designed to be used on the ankles, knees, legs, hips, elbows, shoulders, and arms.
The Vive Cold Therapy base unit holds six liters of ice and water, and its on-device controls allow you to adjust the flow rate with the press of a button.
Best Gravity-Fed Cold Therapy Machine
Aircast Cryo/Cuff Cold Therapy Non-Motorized Cooler
If you’re looking for a less expensive and sound-free cold therapy option, the Aircast Cryo/Cuff Gravity-Fed unit is the most straightforward approach to cold therapy.
While non-motorized cold therapy machines may not provide the same degree of circulation as their motorized counterparts, you gain the advantage of being able to use it anywhere (power free) but still have a cold therapy solution superior to standard ice packs.
The Aircast’s straightforward design comes with quite a bit of versatility – allowing you to attach any Aircast, Cryo/Cuff, and Arctic Flow compatible pads to the unit.
One important factor to keep in mind is that the base unit only comes with the cooler and tube assembly. You will also need to purchase a compatible attachment to go along with it before checking out.
Shoulder Coverage: PhysioNatural Shoulder Cold Therapy System
If you’re looking for a cold therapy machine with the best possible coverage of your shoulder – the PhysioNatural Shoulder Cold Therapy System has one of the best shoulder pads you can find.
The PhysioNatural shoulder pad is a one size fits all design up to a 58″ chest and shoulder circumference, and its coverage is excellent.
Its base unit is a straightforward 9-quart cooling reservoir with a digital panel to monitor your treatment temperature and programmable auto-shut down at the end of your session.
It also has an option to purchase a universal pad to use for other joints and muscles, so even if you choose the PhysioNatural for its shoulder solution, you’ll have more versatile options if you need it for another body part in the future.
Knee Cold/Hot Contrast Therapy: Hyperice X Knee
We wanted to include one final unique option at the end of this list, the Hyperice X Knee contrast therapy device.
The Hyperice X Knee’s innovative design gives you the power of cold therapy and heat therapy in one device. You can use cold therapy to help manage pain and reduce inflammation, then flip the device over to heat to reduce tension and aches throughout the day.
The best feature of the Hyperice X Knee is its adaptive fit with no cords, no ice, and no preparation. All you have to do is toss it on, control the device with your smartphone, and you’ll have a fully equipped contrast therapy device with you wherever you go.
The Hyperice X Knee is only 2lbs for ultimate portability. The battery lasts for 1.5 hours of consistent temperature treatment. And it can switch between hot and cold therapy in under a minute.
Additionally, it’s also been approved by the TSA for an in-flight carry-on, so you’ll always be able to take it with you for relief when you may need it.