Updated on 2016-11-06 – A cryo-cuff knee system (also known as a knee ice machine or passive cold compression therapy unit) consists of three basic components:
- The cooler – which you fill with ice and water
- The cuff – a sack which you wrap around your knee
- The tube – provides the water flow between the cooler and the cuff
Usually, a doctor will ask you to buy one of these units prior to upcoming knee surgery because immediately after the operation you will most likely experience pain and swelling which can be relieved by cold compression therapy. They are also recommended for patients going through physiotherapy for other (non-surgical) knee-related issues because intense physiotherapy sessions can sometimes leave you feeling as if you had just undergone surgery. The main purpose of this system is to provide compression and ice therapy, which will relieve some of the pain and swelling.
This article will focus on the Aircast Cryo Cuff Knee System because it is one of the most popular brands out there, which makes it easier to find replacement parts and information on them.
Types of AirCast Cryo-Cuff Knee Systems
There are three main types:
1. The gravity-based system. This is the lower cost version where water flows through the cuff by raising and lowering the cooler. Movement of the cooler also affects the compression of the cuff. The higher you raise the cuff, the more pressure (compression) you will feel.
2. Aircast Self Contained Cryo Knee Cuff – This version is more portable because there is no need for a cooler. Simply fill the cuff with cold water and ice and you can take it anywhere you go. It’s also designed with a “pressure bulb” which allows you to control the amount of compression.
3. The IC pump system (or “AutoChill” system). This system is a little bit more expensive than the gravity system because it comes with a small electric pump which provides automatic continuous cold water flow and also provides intermittent pulsating pressure. Some say that these two additional features allow for less swelling and faster recovery times.
To determine what size you need, measure the circumference of your thigh approx. 6 inches above the center of the knee cap, then refer to the following:
- Small – 10 to 19 inches (or 25 to 48 centimeters)
- Medium – 18 to 23 inches (46 to 58 centimeters)
- Large – 20 to 31 inches (51 to 79 centimeters)
How To Use An AirCast Cryo-Cuff Knee System
The system is simple to use. Here are step-by-step instructions on how to set it up and use it:
1. Start by getting the cooler ready.
- Attach the blue tube to the cooler.
- Fill the cooler with cold water up to the indication line.
- Add ice.
- Place the insulation disk on top of the water/ice.
- Place the lid on top and secure it. Make sure it’s tight to ensure no water leakage.
- Wait five to ten minutes to make sure the water is cold enough.
2. Wrap the cuff around the affected knee. (Make sure the cuff is empty beforehand.). The top strap should be snug while the bottom strap should be a bit loser. Then adjust the front strap.
3. Connect the other end of the blue tube to the cuff and open the cooler air vent.
4. Raise the cooler 15 to 20 inches above the cuff and leave it there until the cuff is filled with water, then close the cooler air vent.
5. Place the cooler at the same level as the cuff, preferably on a stable surface (desk, coffee table, etc.)
6. If you have the motorized version, at this point you will plug it in and it will automatically start circulating the cold water.
7. Sit there and enjoy the ride.
- With the regular (non-motorized) version of the cryo cuff, your body heat will eventually warm up the water before you are done using it. If this happens, just lower the cooler below the cuff to remove the warm water, and then repeat steps 4 and 5 above.
- If you find that there is too much pressure, or you feel tingling or numbness, lower the cooler a little bit at a time until the cuff feels more comfortable.
- If you have a bandage or dressing of some sort around your knee, make sure it isn’t too tight before securing the cuff to your knee.
Important – This is an overview on how to use it. You should always refer to the owner’s manual for specific instructions.
Are Cryo-Cuff Knee Systems Worth It?
Some people will say that using ice packs (or even a frozen bag of peas) is all you need to reduce the swelling and pain. In some circumstances, they are right and simple cold therapy may be enough. However other situations may require more that just simple icing (i.e.: cryo-cuff knee systems are often recommended for post knee surgery recovery, moderate to severe knee pain, etc.). The added benefit of compression may be required depending on your situation. To determine what you need, it is crucial that you consult a doctor.
Updates made on 2016-11-06 – General formatting updates and major changes to the “Types Of Aircast Systems” section. Added the self-contained Aircast version and images for each to make it easier to identify them and where to buy them.
Disclaimer – I am not a doctor and I am not qualified to provide medical advice. The information on cryo-cuff knee systems mentioned above was posted for informational purposes only and should not be interpreted as medical advice.
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