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The Best Ice Therapy Machines to Soothe Sore Knees and Shoulders

For years, we’ve been applying ice packs, and frozen peas to help alleviate swelling or soothe aches and pains.

These days, however, technology has made things much easier; instead of traditional ice packs, we now have ice therapy machines.

If you suffer from sprains, tendonitis, runners’ knee, arthritis pain, joint pain, inflammation and lower back pain you can benefit from using an ice therapy machine.

It is also used after surgery and is utilized by many athletes to treat swelling and pain.

In this article we’ll review the 7 best ice therapy machines available today, then we’ll highlight our top pick from the list.


What are Ice Therapy Machines?

Ice therapy machines also known as cold therapy machines are used for cold compression therapy which utilizes the freezing effect in conjunction with compression. 

Cold therapy machines incorporate two aspects of the R.I.C.E healing and recovery method.

This stands for Rest, Ice, Compression and Recovery; cold therapy machines focus on the Ice and compression phases. [1]

An ice therapy machine looks similar to an ice cooler and utilizes freezing agents such as ice and water.

They usually come with a hose; one side of the hose is attached to the container while the other end is attached to a circulation pad, which is placed on a section of the body.

When the ice and water are added to the container, you must then wrap the pad which is connected to the hose, around the body part that requires treatment.

The ice therapy machine then disperses the cold therapy through the hose and on to the surface of the pad, which is wrapped around the knee, leg, shoulder or other body parts thus compressing the injury in the process.  

The compression aspect of the machine helps to remove fluid that has been built up in the area and caused the swelling.

While the cold temperature narrows the blood vessels thus temporarily inhibiting blood flow to the injured area.

What are the Benefits?

Medical professionals, along with sports and rehabilitation specialists all agree that compression therapy in combination with ice therapy ranks among the best treatment for injury, inflammation and pain related to your muscular system. [2]

Ice therapy helps to mitigate pain, thanks to its numbing effect, and it does not have the dangerous side effects of over-the-counter medication.

It also helps your tissues repair themselves faster by reducing swelling and inflammation, and increasing nutrients and oxygen to the injured area.

Its other benefits include stimulating blood flow and stimulating the movement of lymphatic fluid which then provides injured tissues with both nutrients and oxygen.


What to Look for When Choosing an Ice Therapy Machine

If you’ve never bought one before and need further advice on choosing a machine, we have some useful information on what you should pay special attention to. 

Timer Setting

Some devices have to be timed within 15 or 30-minute increments, while others allow you hours of continued use.

Depending on your condition, you will need to utilize ice therapy for a specified time so this is an important feature to consider before you purchase.

Tube Dimension  

An extra-long tube allows you the flexibility to move around without having to lug the cold therapy machine with you wherever you go. 

Another option is a detachable tube which allows you to remove it during use if you need to go somewhere.

Customizable Pads

Some pads are designed to be used only on specific areas such as the knee and won’t work on other body parts.

If you want a product that can be used on different areas, ensure that this is stated in the product description.

Motorized & Non-Motorized

A motorized cold therapy machine comes with a motor; thus the name, and it does have its benefits.

These can send a stronger and more consistent flow of ice therapy to the injured area.

The downside is that they can be noisy, although some options boast ‘whisper quiet’ features.

The benefits of non-motorized machines are that they are quiet and are often light, making them a portable option if you want a machine that you can travel with.

Another great benefit is that there are no plugs, so you can use it any and everywhere.

These are usually very basic, however, so you won’t get the fancy timers, settings, or led screens that are available on some motorized models.

Weight and Size

A cold therapy system can weigh anywhere from 2-8 pounds since they differ in size, style and features.

The heavier ones are usually motorized, but this will only be an issue if you tend to move around a lot during use – and if the cord is not long enough for the item to stay in one place while you move.

Special Features

One of the machines on our list offers both a cold and heat therapy setting, so look out for special features like these which could be an added benefit to help your condition.  


The 7 Best Ice Therapy Machines for Swelling and Pain

Now that we’ve explained what an ice therapy machine is, we’ll compare some of the finest choices on the market and help find you find the best ice therapy machine for your needs.

1. Vive Cold Therapy Machine

This ice therapy machine from Vive boasts a LED display and comes with a large, flexible therapy pad which contours to your body for targeted relief.

Ideal for use on the hip, leg, knee, shoulder, arm or elbow, the surface of the pad is also devised with a dimpled effect for even ice water distribution.

Vive has 5 rates of continuous flow with cycle times of 30 minutes or less and the base can hold up to 6 litres of water.

The device also comes with 3 adjustable straps and a connecter tubing that is insulated with foam.

Complaints were that the device only runs for 30 minutes at a time, thus unable to provide extended relief; others noted it had a high pitch sound when running.

However, the Vive Cold Therapy machine offers a 1-year guarantee and has a therapy pad that contours to your body, so whether you’re recovering from foot surgery or you’re experiencing pain in the knee, arm, hips or shoulder this is a good pick.  

Pros: 1-year guarantee, 3 adjustable straps , can be used on various body parts 

Cons: Only runs 30 minutes at a time, high pitch sound during use

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2. Polar Products Active Ice 3.0 Cold Therapy System

Thie Polar Products Active System was specially designed to offer drug-free pain relief after surgery.

Polar Products also boasts that their Active Ice machine comes with the largest cooling reservoir available, 9 quarts. There is also a 15-quart option available.

The ice therapy system comes with an electronic digital timer complete with on/off switch, as well as a knee bladder with compression belt attached.

You can detach the bladder from the unit at any time to allow you to move as needed, thanks to the quick disconnect coupling.

Furthermore, the machine has a quiet, brushless pump so you that won’t be disturbed with any noise during use.

On the downside, this was specifically designed for use on the knee, however, there is a separate model available where you can buy different pads for different parts of the body.

Some buyers also noted that their ice therapy unit leaked after a while.

Nonetheless, it does boast a large cooling reservoir, comes with a digital timer, and is designed for post-surgery use so if you’re seeking out an after-surgery cold therapy system, this is right up your alley.

Pros: Digital timer, comes with knee bladder, largest cooling reservoir available, another model available for other areas of the body

Cons: Might leak , specifically designed for use on the knee

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3. Arctic Cold Water Therapy Ice Machine

Unlike some others on our list, this ice therapy machine offers up to 5 hours of water circulation for extended relief.

It can be timed via 15-minute increments with an auto shut-off setting.

You can also opt for continuous use to keep the machine going for the maximum time. It also has a high and low setting.

Furthermore, the Arctic ice machine comes with a universal wrap and a Velcro strap which can be used on various areas of the body such as the hip, ankle, shoulder, and even your wrist and elbow.

The machine remains quiet while the 52-inch hose –attached to a motorized pump- circulates water to the pad, offering you relief and comfort.

The most popular complaints about this product related to the small size of the pad and some users had issues when their pump stopped working.

Despite these issues, if you suffer from chronic pain, inflammation, diabetes, or joint pain this machine is worth a try.

Plus, it can be used on various areas of the body. 

Pros: Circulates water up to 5 hours, 52-inch hose, auto shut off & continuous setting

Cons: Pad is small, pump may stop working

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4. Aircast Cryo Cuff Cold Therapy Knee Solution

The Aircast Cryo Cuff cold therapy machine uses a non-motorized system to provide cold, focal compression to the knee.

The pad offers a universal fit so the device can be worn both on the left and right leg.

Aircast boasts an anatomically designed cuff to prevent tissue damage and provide you with concentrated cryotherapy.

Users of this product noted that it does not circulate water for very long and others reported that their cuff started to leak after use; plus it also can only be used on the knees.

Nevertheless, this ice therapy system is non-motorized making it lighter and more travel-friendly than other options.

It was designed to help with sports injuries, swelling, pain and post-operative recovery and is a great option for athletes since you can easily take it with you on the field.

Pros: No plugs/can be used anywhere, provides focal compression to the knee, light and portable, universal pad fits left or right leg

Cons: Can only be used on the knees, doesn’t circulate water, cuff may leak

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5. Ossur Cold Rush Therapy System

Boasting the highest ice-to-water ratio of other cold therapy systems in the industry, and has insulated walls for advanced cooling. 

This motorized system features a 30-decibel unit making it very quiet allowing you undisturbed rest while you treat your injury.

Additionally, the Ossur Cold Rush Therapy System offers up to 6 hours of continuous use to ensure adequate pain relief.

The Ossur unit offers you personalized relief for different areas of the body.

The unit is sold with a universal pad or you can choose from a variety of options customized for different areas of the body.

The options are for ankle, knee, lumbar and left/right hip pads.

There are also shoulder pads in large and small, as well as a rectangle pad.

Previous users have complained that they were not happy with the quality of the pads, while some had issues with leaky units.

Despite the complaints, it offers a high ice-to-water ratio, which means you won’t have to constantly refill the container, plus it offers 6 continuous hours of ice therapy, a great pick for shoulder pain, ankle pain or lumbar pain.

Pros: Customized pads, highest ice-to-water ratio, 6 continuous hours of cold therapy, universal pad

Cons: Unit may leak, ineffective pad

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6. Thermax Hot/Cold Therapy Unit

The Thermax cold therapy machine is designed to provide 5 hours of ice therapy and has a clear container so you can see when the unit needs refilling.

One enviable feature of this device is its ability to offer both hot and cold therapy for effective pain relief and healing. 

Additionally, the pad, and extra straps are intended to conform to various body parts to include the elbow, knee, back and ankle.

The unit also comes equipped with a 9-inch hose and a 10-inch power cord.

Thermax boasts a simple push-button lid and a robust handle for easy transportation.

Furthermore, this ice therapy machine comes with a hook on both sides to conveniently store the hose when it’s not in use.

The downside to this unit is that it can be noisy and some buyers have shared that their device leaked during use.

Nonetheless, this machine offers both hot and cold therapy making it a solid pick for alleviating pain and decreasing inflammation due to surgery, or injury.

So, if these symptoms sound familiar, give this innovative device a try.

Pros: 10-inch-long power cord, offers hot/cold therapy, comes with hook to store hose

Cons: Noisy, may leak

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7. ARS Aqua Relief System Hot or Cold Water Therapy Device

This ARS Aqua relief system comes with a universal therapy pad and can be used on your hands, feet and other parts of the body. 

It is one of the two machines on our list that offers both a hot and cold-water treatment setting. 

The hot water therapy offers an adjustable water temperature and is ideal for sore muscles and painful joints.

It is designed to target stiff ligaments and tendons, and improve circulation and cell function.

Meanwhile, the cold therapy setting is for chronic pain and to reduce swelling.

The device can be timed in 15-minute increments, or you can opt for the auto-shut off or continuous setting.

Users who bought this product complained about the lack of a proper product manual, while others noted a loud hum when using their device.

Despite the complaints, this device offers a hot and cold therapy treatment option, and comes with a universal therapy pad.

It is a worthy selection for diabetic care, chronic pain, as well as stiffness in your ligaments and tendons, so if these are your issues you will surely benefit from this one.

Pros: Hot & cold-water treatment setting, universal therapy pad

Cons: Loud hum, no product manual

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The Best Ice Therapy Machine: Recommendations 

This highly-rated Cold Rush Therapy System from Ossur takes our top pick for many reasons, one being its multi-purpose use.

The unit is sold with a universal pad, or you can select from a variety of options customized for different areas of the body.

You can choose from ankle, knee, lumbar and left/right hip pads, large and small shoulder pads or a rectangle pad for large areas of the body.

Ossur has a quiet, motorized system which offers you up to 6 hours of continuous use.

This cold therapy machine also boasts the highest ice-to-water ratio of other cold therapy systems in the industry, and has insulated walls for advanced cooling. 

It is competitively priced and a perfect pick for multiple conditions and purposes.  

If you want a device that offers both hot and cold therapy then the ARS Aqua Relief or the Thermax are machines worth considering.


Other Types of Cold Therapy Units

Ice pack

This is a reusable packet that may contain gel or something similar.

The pack must be frozen for a specified time, then it is placed directly on the swelling or painful area.

Related: Best Ice Packs for Knees

Coolants

These come in the form of sprays or ointments and are either rubbed into or sprayed onto the area to relieve pain.

They have a cooling sensation, but don’t usually require refrigeration. 

Ice massage

This is performed using an ice cup which is placed on the injured area and gently rotated.

This movement is said to mobilize soft tissues much like a regular massage, while the ice helps with pain. [3]


Before we go, it is always advisable that you consult a doctor before utilizing this type of therapy.

NB. This is especially important if you suffer from a heart or cardiovascular related medical condition. 

A medical professional will be best able to indicate if ice therapy is the best course of action for your ailment, and will also determine the proper length of time you should use your machine each day.

Do not use the machine longer than the recommended time.

This is very important because ice therapy applied for extended periods can cause adverse issues such as nerve damage, tissue damage or skin damage.

Always read the instructions carefully so that your treatment is effective, and with proper and consistent use will soon start to reap the benefits of ice therapy.