NEVER use ICE with CRPS!

**ALL of the information below is from – They have amazing information about CRPS. Along with a lot of resources**




It can make the CRPS worsen and/or spread. It can also accelerate the patient through the stages. This is extremely important for the patient to not only know but to make sure their Physical Therapist knows as well. Most Therapy Clinics have caught up on this, it has been known for many years now, but there are still a few out there who need the information. Don’t be shy about sharing it!

Patients can actually have their CRPS go into the next stage from repeated application of ice packs, and sometimes even from just doing the hot/cold contrast therapy

Ice will also cause the blood vessels to constrict more, reducing the blood flow to the extremities, increasing the pain, causing color changes, etc. but the real damage is to the nerve’s myelin sheath; basically, the protective cover for the nerve.The same is true for the bath therapy.

We know, it feels good at the time you put it on. We know it seems to make sense on some level, burning pain, apply cold. But in the end what you are doing is constricting the blood vessels, reducing the blood flow, and then when the ice is removed the vessels do not rebound because the protective sheath around the nerve has been damaged. More and more with each application, causing even more of the nerve damage you were trying to prevent in the first place.

Not all of these changes are visible to the naked eye, not all are noticeable immediately, and the effect is cumulative. For some patients, whose allodynia is more pronounced, those with a history of CRPS, or those with prior injuries/diseases/conditions even the application of ice in areas not affected by the CRPS can have the same effect.


This can sometimes be called Therapeutic Contrasting, but whichever name it goes by the procedure is basically the same. It is the process whereby you are quickly changing the tissue temperature from hot to cold and back again, repeatedly. This is usually done by immersing the limb or even the entire body, using hot and cold water. How is this different from the usual method of applying heat or ice? By applying both in rapid succession it is an exaggerated form of both but it is typically done with water because it is more practical. Hot/Cold Contrast Therapy could be done with Ice & hot water, or Heat & cold water, depending on what part of the body is affected though.

Care must be taken with patients who have sensitivity to ice, high blood pressure, circulatory problems, where there are open sores, skin sensitivity, or CRPS. For a good description of Hot/Cold Contrast Therapy, CLICK HERE

Please make sure your Physical Therapist understands the role that ICE and Hot/Cold Contrast Therapy plays in the disease CRPS.

Doctor Hooshmand’s Ice Puzzle
Neurological Associates
H. Hooshmand, M. D., P.A.
RSD Puzzle #102
Ice Versus Heat

In our study of ice versus heat tolerance, 87% of the patients could not tolerate cold. and 13% could not tolerate heat. The infrared thermal imaging showed that the ones who could not tolerate heat (13 %) had advanced stages of sympathetic nerve paralysis rather than nerve irritation (death of the sympathetic nerve fibers rather than hyperactive nerve fibers). The area of permanent sympathetic nerve damage in late stage acted like a leaky radiator, causing leakage of heat through the skin which resulted in warm extremity and secondary intolerance to external heat. Meaning that due to permanent damage to the sympathetic nerve fibers( after repeated ganglion nerve blocks or sympathectomy) the sympathetic nerves could not contain and preserve the heat originating from the deep structures of muscle, bone, etc. This minority of 13% of the patients did not have the hyperactive cold vasoconstriction of the skin seen in earlier stages of RSD. These heat intolerant patients would be classified as erythromelalgia, rather than the 87% RSD patients who have hyperactive sympathetic function with cold extremity and intolerance of cold exposure.

On the other hand repetitive application of ice freezes and coagulates the myelin (fatty tissue insulating large nerve fibers) exactly like ice freezes and solidifies melted butter. As the ice freezes the large nerve fibers, causing freeze damage to the myelinated nerves, the patient develops sensory loss and pain due to permanent damage to the large sensory nerve fibers. This aggravates the RSD by adding sensory nerve pain of non-sympathetic origin to the initial thermal sensory pain of sympathetic origin. As a result, Ice provides total anesthesia and relief of pain for several minute the same way as the hand becomes numb being exposed to snowballs in the winter. However, a few hours after the cessation of ice exposure, the pain recurs with vengeance due to reactive enlargement of blood vessels after the constriction of blood vessels due to exposure to ice. This phenomenon causes excellent relief of pain with ice treatment followed by not only aggravation of pain, but damage to the nerve fibers adding sympathetic independent pain (SIP) to the original sympathetic mediated pain (SMP).

The end result is aggravation of the RSD and SIP resulting in failure of nerve blocks and then the patient is told, “You do not have RSD anymore because the nerve block did not help you and the phentolamine test proved that you do not have SMP or RSD”. In most RSD patients ice makes the condition worse and can cause denial of diagnosis and treatment for the patient. One last comment: this study was on advanced cases of RSD. In early stages of RSD, without exposure to ice, there is far lower percentage of RSD patients who from the beginning suffer from permanent damage to large areas of sympathetic nerve fibers with intolerance of heat and secondary erythromelalgia. It becomes obvious that heat-cold challenge physical therapy is nonsensical because it end result is one temperature extreme neutralizing the other and ice challenge further damaging nerve fibers.

Please stay away from any ice exposure, even if you can not tolerate heat.

H.Hooshmand, MD.
copyright © 2013 American RSDHope


2 thoughts on “NEVER use ICE with CRPS!

  1. jess says:

    How ironic. I politely informed you of the dangers of ice back in May and you bit my head off saying it helps the pain! Good to see some truth about it on here finally.


    • Heather Lynn says:
      This is where you are wrong. Not to mention, the stress you put me through that night actually caused both of my arms to flare up, so painful that tears were falling.
      So thank you for that. You were putting words in my mouth. I NEVER said to put ice on an area with CRPS!!! Never!!! In fact, a PT put ice on my foot when I was first diagnosed, within 10sec. I was crying hysterically because the pain was indescribable. I got up and threw the bag across the room when he told me to leave the ice on! My foot turned blue/black and lost feeling for 5+ hrs! So I know 100% that ice is bad.
      ~What I posted on twitter was a photo to explain what a flare up felt like for me!!
      That collage included the following:
      -A photo of a foot (Imagine your foot/limb)….
      – A picture of lighter fluid (getting filled in your blood stream then caught on fire)
      – A Brillo pad ( at the same time, being scratched with a Brillo pad)
      – Pins and Needles ( as well as pins and needles being thrown at the limb)
      -THEN I PUT A PHOTO OF ICE CUBES! (Because many times it feels like parts of the limb has frost bite!!)
      ** that photo was explaining HOW A FLARE FELT FOR *ME*!* everyone is different. But I was not suggesting any type of treatment options, whether good or bad.
      I tried explain this to you at least 5 times. And you still continued to put words in my mouth!
      Unless you have proof that I said anything about ice helping the pain(which I’d NEVER say, bc I know first hand that it doesn’t ) then I need you to stop putting words into my mouth. And you should always double check what it is,that you’re looking at before commenting on it.

      I hope this finally clears things up for you.
      Thank you
      Heather Lynn


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