Ice for injury…but what about your post-exercise routine?

Ice for Injury and Exercise

Cooling limbs after an injury is something many of us as horse owners have experienced. By doing so we are attempting to take out the heat in the leg and bring down any swelling. Standing cold hosing is one of those time-consuming tasks that seems to have been standard procedure for treating bruising and strains in the equine leg for some time.

Even better than cold water is the application of ice. Decreasing leg temperature causes narrowing of the blood vessels (vasoconstriction) which leads to a decrease in the amount of blood being delivered to the area and lessens the amount of swelling. Much like when we use an ice pack for a sprain or similar, the ice acts to reduce pain (by raising the pain threshold and thus overriding the pain sensation), reduce muscle spasm, decrease nerve transmission and cause endorphin release.


So, we know about cooling after injury but what about after exercise?

Exercise is an important part of a horse’s life and the intensity and volume of exercise can vary from breed to breed, their discipline and health status. Despite this, the effect exercise has is the same. Microscopic tears occur and are necessary for muscle growth, but major tears are what we deem an injury requiring treatment and aftercare.

Heat in the horses lower limbs causes cellular damage to tendons, ligaments and joints.

Bringing down the tissue temperatures:

  • constricts blood vessels hence flushing waste products, like lactic acid, out of the affected tissues
  • decreases metabolic activity, slowing down the physiological processes that cause inflammation
  • reduces swelling & tissue breakdown


The other benefit is taking the heat out of legs that have been bandaged or booted for exercise. Studies have found that tendons like the superficial digital flexor tendon produce heat on exercise. The tendon is further insulated by boots and bandages, and without airflow, the temperatures could rise to dangerous levels which could lead to tendon cell death.

How hot do the horse legs get after exercise? At 45°C for 10 minutes, 10% of tendon cells die but raise the temperature to 48°C for 10 mins and 80% of tendon cells die. (Vet Clin North Am Equine Pract. 1994 Aug;10(2):323-49.)

Once the ice is removed post exercise, blood vessels vasodilate increasing blood flow, speeding circulation, which further flushes out the unwanted waste, accelerating the healing process. Human evidence suggests a water temperature of less than 10 °C & immersion time of 10-15 mins demonstrated the best results.


Many of us may not have the facilities (and time!) to organise an ice bath for a 500kg horse especially after you’ve just exercised them. This is where CRYOCHAPS come in. Designed for use immediately after exercise to decrease surface leg temperatures and help cool the leg to prevent injury. Use for a minimum of 10mins and a maximum of 20 mins.

The CRYOCHAPS design, made from a non-toxic gel that maintains low temperatures, covers all major tendons and ligaments in the lower leg. The gel filled compartments mould to the horses leg and remain malleable allowing you to walk the horse off whilst providing an ice therapy treatment. Symmetrical in design they can be applied to the right or left leg and easy to apply – just wrap and strap.

For best results wet the leg before application. Temperatures are maintained below 10°-15° for this time period. If your horses’s leg is not cool to the touch when you take CRYOCHAPS off, they were not frozen adequately before application.

Within the first 24-48 hours after injury, apply for up to 20mins, temperatures against the leg will be maintained below 10°-15°. Application can be repeated every 2-3 hours, ensure you take advice from your vet before using after injury. CRYOCHAPS should not be used on open wounds or if suspected infection. If your horse has sensitive legs, or clipped legs, it is advised to cover. CRYOCHAPS should not be left on the leg longer than 20 mins, there is no medical benefit to be gained by leaving them on for longer. You run the risk of damaging the skin.


CRYOCHAPS have been designed not only to help rehabilitation after injury (following advice from your vet) but more importantly be integrated into your everyday cool-down routine to focus on recovery and injury prevention.

Here’s a great video explaining more about CRYOCHAPS:

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