Best Cold Therapy Packs

Updated July 2019
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BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We may earn a commission if you purchase a product through our links.
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.
We may earn a commission if you purchase a product through our links.
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How we decided

We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

31 Models Considered
6 Hours Researched
1 Experts Interviewed
402 Consumers Consulted
Zero products received from manufacturers.

We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

Why trust BestReviews?
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.
We may earn a commission if you purchase a product through our links.
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We may earn a commission if you purchase a product through our links.
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.
We may earn a commission if you purchase a product through our links.

Buying guide for best cold therapy packs

Last Updated July 2019

When it comes to sports injuries, nasty knocks, sprains, and twists, cold therapy is your first line of defense against inflammation and tissue damage. But a bag of frozen peas isn't your only option. Cold therapy packs are a far more convenient way to quell pain and minimize swelling, and most are reusable to boot.

Available in a multitude of sizes and shapes, cold therapy packs can be applied to just about any area of the body, and most are pliable to provide maximum contact over muscle contours and joints. However, finding the perfect one amid hundreds of options can be tough. What size? Straps or no straps? Which features can help prevent leaks? Should you consider an option that can be used for both heat and cold therapy?

If you need a hand choosing a cold therapy pack, you're in luck. Our buying guide is crammed with helpful advice, tips, tricks, and product recommendations to make finding the best cold therapy pack a breeze.

Pairing nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs with cold therapy can further help minimize pain and swelling, but don't forget to consult a doctor before self-medicating.

Key considerations

Cold therapy vs. heat therapy

Both cold and heat therapy can be used to manage pain caused by injuries or chronic inflammatory conditions. However, each has its own distinctive set of benefits, and getting the timing just right is key to achieving optimal results. Let's take a closer look at the difference between heat and cold therapy to find out how each can help at different stages of recovery.

Cold therapy: Also known as cryotherapy, cold therapy slows blood flow to the injured site and can significantly decrease swelling. Cold therapy also acts as an excellent, albeit temporary, local anesthetic. Cold therapy is most effective when applied within 48 hours of sustaining an injury.

Heat therapy: On the opposite end of the spectrum is heat therapy. Rather than slowing blood flow, heat therapy boosts circulation and relaxes stiff muscles. Heat therapy is best used to ease pain and promote healing once any inflammation has already been treated with cold therapy. Heat therapy is also ideal for chronic pain caused by old injuries or arthritis.

Type of cold therapy packs

Reusable cold therapy packs are typically filled with gel or clay, while disposables contain a combination of water and cooling agents.

Regular cold therapy packs: The average reusable cold therapy pack is filled with gel or clay and serves a singular purpose: to provide cooling, inflammation-fighting relief.

Heat and cold therapy packs: Hands down the most versatile, heat and cold therapy packs are constructed of materials that can be heated or frozen. This conveniently allows you to alternate between heat and cold therapy using a single product.

Disposable cold therapy packs: These handy packs are primarily designed for emergencies or use on the go and require no freezing. Most consist of two layers: the outer layer is filled with water while the inner layer contains cooling agents. In the event of an injury, a shake or squeeze of the pack activates the cooling agent.

Comprehensive care

Suitable for both heat and cold therapy, this ice pack with straps is a versatile option that provides pain relief and therapeutic care throughout every stage of recovery. Generous size, excellent flexibility, and integrated straps allow users to achieve a comfortable fit almost anywhere.

Size

The area of the body and extent of the injury will determine the best size of cold therapy pack. While smaller packs are ideal for joints or tendons, larger cold therapy packs provide fuller coverage for areas like the back, hips, thighs, or arms. Longer cold therapy packs also come in handy if you need something that can comfortably be wrapped around a limb or draped across the neck and shoulders.

Durability

If you need a cold pack for a single injury or just want to be prepared for any eventuality, durability might not be too much of a concern. However, if you're an active individual who frequently pushes your body to the limits at the gym, on the sports field, or at a physically demanding job, it's wise to choose a reliable cold therapy pack that won't let you down when you need it most.

Materials

Not surprisingly, the materials are directly linked to a cold therapy pack’s durability. Those with a thin plastic shell and glued seams are far more likely to spring a leak than those with a more robust construction. For superior durability and leak-free confidence, look for a thick plastic shell or one that's backed with nylon, as well as securely stitched edges.

EXPERT TIP

Cold therapy packs are ideal for use following demanding or pain-inducing physical activity, and they can also help alleviate muscle cramps and spasms.


Staff  | BestReviews

Cold therapy pack features

Flexibility: Although it’s frequently overlooked, flexibility is an incredibly helpful feature. A cold therapy pack that's able to mold to the contours of your body is not only more comfortable to use, but it also makes sure that dips, curves, and creases also receive cooling contact.

Straps: It can be frustrating and uncomfortable to sit still or remain in an awkward position while holding a cold therapy pack in place. Of course, securing a cold therapy pack with a bandage is always an option, but achieving a secure hold that won't slip or slide can be tricky. Cold therapy packs that come with attached straps allow you cover the affected area and securely fasten the pack, so there's no need to put your daily routine on hold.

Reinforced seams: When it comes to avoiding annoying leaks, it's best to opt for a cold therapy pack with reinforced sealed or sewn seams. While adhesives can eventually begin to peel away due to drastic temperature changes and moisture, sealed seams and stitching will remain in place (unless damaged, of course), keeping cold therapy packs leak-free for longer.

Soft-touch cover: Covers and sleeves certainly aren't a make-or-break feature, but they can make for a more streamlined experience overall. While plastic-covered cold therapy packs need to be wrapped in a towel before being applied to the skin, models that come with a fabric cover or sleeve offer a protective layer, conveniently allowing you to skip this step.

EXPERT TIP

Pain and stiffness can be treated with heat therapy once the swelling has subsided. Experts typically recommend waiting at least 72 hours before replacing cold with heat therapy, but time frames can vary depending on the extent of the injury.


Staff  | BestReviews

Cold therapy pack prices

The average cold therapy pack is relatively inexpensive, with prices escalating along with size, features, and quality.

Inexpensive: Smaller cold therapy packs, with or without straps, typically cost between $5 and $10. Multipacks or more durable single cold therapy packs can be found at the higher end of this price range.

Mid-range: Midsize to large single cold therapy packs, heat and cold therapy packs, and multipacks of smaller disposable and reusable models tend to be priced anywhere from $10 to $20.

Expensive: Extra-large cold therapy packs, sizeable heat and cold therapy packs, and generous packs of disposables cost anywhere from $20 to $40.

EXPERT TIP

Don't limit yourself to only using your cold therapy pack to treat injuries. Reach for one when you need relief from fever, toothache, headache, breast engorgement, or a burn, bite, or sting.


Staff  | BestReviews

Tips

  • Start with cold therapy. Applying heat to a fresh injury will increase circulation and exacerbate swelling.
  • Apply a cold therapy pack to an injury as soon as possible. If immediate icing isn't an option, aim to treat the injured area within 48 hours.
  • Don’t place a cold therapy pack directly on bare skin. Wrap your cold therapy pack in a towel or washcloth to prevent ice burns.
  • Elevate the injury. If at all possible, elevate the injured area to further help reduce swelling and keep blood from pooling.
  • Don't overdo it. Prolonged contact with freezing temperatures can cause skin damage and frostbite. Rather than keeping an injury iced for extended periods of time, use your cold therapy pack for 10 to 30 minutes at a stretch throughout the day.

Leak-free confidence

Despite its lightweight price tag, this gel pack still manages to deliver heavy-duty quality with a thick shell and sturdy sewn seams that hold up exceptionally well to frequent or long-term use. This option can also be used for both heat and cold therapy, conveniently covering all the essential injury-care bases.

Other products we considered

Cold therapy doesn't necessarily have to be reserved for injuries. In fact, compact cold therapy packs like the IceWraps Round Reusable Gel Ice Packs can work wonders for headaches, toothaches, insect bites, nosebleeds, and even puffy, tired eyes. These versatile little packs can be used for both cold and heat therapy and boast a sturdy medical-grade plastic shell with sealed seams to help prevent leaks. If you're looking for a multipack of disposables to keep on hand while you're out and about, the Medpride Instant Disposable Cold Therapy Packs are an option well worth considering. Priced right and always ready for action, one of these 24 cold packs can quickly be activated with a squeeze when needed. If you're an avid exerciser or athlete, odds are you often need more than one cold therapy pack at a time. The TrekProof Reusable Hot and Cold Therapy Gel Wraps come with two gel packs and an integrated strap-and-pocket design that allows users to treat one limb before rotating packs and applying it to the next.

Heat and cold therapy packs can provide much-needed relief for arthritis sufferers. While heat is ideal for stiffness and pain associated with osteoarthritis, cold therapy can help reduce inflammation caused by rheumatoid arthritis.

FAQ

Q. How often should I use my cold therapy pack?
A.
While there's no hard and fast rule regarding application frequency, most experts agree that injuries should be treated with cold therapy every 2 to 4 hours over a period of 24 to 72 hours.

Q. How long does a cold therapy pack take to freeze?
A.
Freezing time can vary from product to product, and depends largely on the size of the cold pack, how much filling it contains, and your freezer's temperature. On average, cold therapy packs require a couple hours of cooling before use.

Q. How long do cold therapy packs maintain temperature?
A.
A common complaint about cold therapy packs is that they just don't stay cold long enough. However, most medical professionals don't recommend using a cold therapy pack for more than 20 to 30 minutes at a time, so it's no coincidence that that's exactly how long the average cold therapy pack maintains temperature as well. Some most certainly can stay cool longer, but keep in mind that your skin needs a break from the cold.

The team that worked on this review
  • Allen
    Allen
    Writer
  • Bronwyn
    Bronwyn
    Editor
  • Eliza
    Eliza
    Production Manager
  • Erica
    Erica
    Writer
  • Melinda
    Melinda
    Web Producer

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